EU seeks focus on environment in the post-MDG debate

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Two EU Commissioners put strong emphasis on environmental issues at a Brussels round-table discussion on proposed measures to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  

The event, held at the European Commission on 9 July with the participation of NGO representatives and MEPs, took stock of the recently published report of the United Nations High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda.

>> Read: Piebalgs: Future development goals should apply to every country in the world

To prepare the process of putting in place post-2015 MDGs (see background), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had asked the panel to produce a report “on how the post-MDGs could look like”. After the publication of the report, the ministers of foreign affairs of the EU adopted Council Conclusions on the overarching post-2015 agenda.

Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who opened the event, said that discussions on the report were gaining momentum in different international frameworks such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where he had been the previous day, and that Europe had to play an important role in the further debate. He also said he was happy that EU member states endorsed the report at the level of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on 25 June.

Piebalgs, who is one of the 27 “eminent personalities” who authored the report, said the high-level panel had took a more ambitious approach than just focusing on "the unfinished business” of present MDGs.

Food security, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, sustainable energy, gender equality and women empowerment have a prominent place in the proposed 12 universal goals and 54 national targets, he said.

Also, he emphasised that the authors of the report had managed to include the goal to guarantee good governance and effective institutions, and also to encourage stable and peaceful societies.

But the main focus of his statement was on environmental issues.

“If we don’t deal with environmental sustainability, if we don’t deal with climate change, it will be impossible to eliminate poverty, and it will be the poorest countries which will suffer the most,” Piebalgs said.

States must put sustainable development at the core. Production and consumption must become sustainable, he argued.

At times the commissioner sounded as if he were referring to the EU's own priorities. “We need to transform our economies for jobs and inclusive growth,” he said. The philosophy behind the 12 goals formulated by the high-level panel is that they should apply to all countries, not just developing ones.

Piebalgs also insisted on the role, responsibility and accountability of partners benefiting from development assistance.

“We need to forge a new global partnership, a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation and mutual accountability and national responsibility must underpin the post-2015 agenda. This new partnership should be based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. And for me it must include private sector involvement and domestic resource,” the development commissioner said.

The post-2015 goals must be compelling and respond to peoples’ needs. There will be a need for an accountability mechanism.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said the report should be seen as a basis upon which more could be built.

Oceans, air ‘surprisingly absent’

“I would like to mention some of the areas where the report could have taken a further step on goals and targets. First, the economic transformation toward sustainable consumption and production and a more circular economy, where waste is eliminated, is not sufficiently stressed in the goals and targets. Second, targets for the quality of our oceans and air are fundamental, but are surprisingly absent,” Potočnik said.

He also insisted that there was not sufficient linkage between goals, and that a more comprehensive approach was needed.

Potočnik said that the EU’s position, also reflected in the Council Conclusions, is that drivers for transforming the economy into a green one need to be "explicitly reflected” in the targets. This applies to all countries, at all stages of development, he said.

A prominent speaker at the debate was Dr Garry Conille, special advisor to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, one of the three co-chairs of the high-level panel.

Conille, a former prime minister of Haiti, said the work following the report was far from over, as the proposed post-2015 MDGs were much more complex than the goals adopted by the UN in 2000. For this reason, he saw the need for governments, civil society and the private sector to be deeply involved in the subsequent debate, as there would be many implications for them in the implementation.

Piebalgs said that the next steps following the report will include prepartions for the United Nations “Special Event” to follow up on efforts made towards achieving the MDGs (New York, September 2013) and agree steps for post-2015 MDGs.

Piebalgs also said that at European level, the Commission would soon be launching a Communication “to put the future of development financing into the post-2015 framework”.

In addition, this years’ European development days in November will focus on the post-2015 agenda, the development commissioner said.

Positions: 

Addressing the panel event, Tanya Cox, chair of the Concord/Beyond 2015 European Taskforce, said that the solutions proposed by the High Level Panel did not match the challenges.

"The UN high level panel report has all the buzzwords but the devil is in the detail. Missing is a commitment from developed countries for future development goals to apply to themselves. The solutions of the high level panel report don’t sufficiently confront the challenges of today’s world head on. It’s very business as usual but speeded up. The report also has an over focus on economic growth without a plan B."

Tony Long, director of the European office of WWF, argued “behavioural changes” and a “debate about values” were needed on world scale to save a planet “running into liquidation”. 

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