In order to meet the SDGs, we need a clear and ambitious overarching EU strategy for implementing the 2030 Agenda. All aspects of EU policy, from trade to agriculture to finance, will be affected and EU decision-makers must begin to ensure that happens today, writes Geneviève Pons.
Geneviève Pons is the director of WWF’s European Policy Office.
While overseas aid, recycling and renewable energy are all vital, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals (SDGs) agreed internationally last September go much further than that.
The agenda is universal: the goals are not just applicable to the developing world, but all countries have committed to achieving them domestically as well. The agenda is all-encompassing: it covers every aspect of life, from money to food, the environment to wildlife, jobs to transport and more.
The agenda’s SDGs range from zero hunger, ending poverty, full employment and making cities inclusive and safe, to protecting life on land and under water, combatting climate change, promoting sustainable production and consumption and fostering innovation, as well as others which are equally fundamental.
The Sustainable Development Agenda has the potential to transform the EU’s political agenda, and implementing it in a meaningful way will impact everything the EU does.
One litmus test will be the upcoming EU 2030 strategy: the Sustainable Development Agenda needs to be at its heart. The 2030 strategy should show how the Sustainable Development Goals will be reflected across EU policy areas and align those policy areas around the internationally agreed goals.
Current EU policies are not up to meeting this challenge, so we need to step up our game. Implementing the Sustainable Development Agenda means updating the EU’s 2020 strategy and the proposed circular economy package, and strengthening climate and renewable energy targets. It means ensuring seafood is legally, transparently and sustainably sourced.
It means protecting and restoring ecosystems, strengthening law enforcement against wildlife trafficking, implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives, strengthening the implementation of the EU Timber Regulation and ensuring the sustainability of our food system.
Looking outwards, the agenda means EU foreign and security policy must consider global challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation, resource conflict, poverty and inequality. The EU will need to address its ecological footprint and the impact of its policies globally to support the delivery of sustainable development in other countries.
The rights of local communities and environmental conservation should be taken into account in trade agreements. EU development policy must also integrate the principles of the 2030 Agenda, such as respect for planetary boundaries and leaving no-one behind.
But policies are nothing without solid financing. National and EU budgets must support the delivery of the 2030 Agenda and spending should be evaluated against sustainable development criteria.
Furthermore, we have to hold EU and national governments to account, so transparent monitoring and review mechanisms are needed to ensure that the Agenda is correctly and effectively implemented.
The approach should not just be top-down, however. The role of citizens and civil society organisations was instrumental in bringing about the 2030 Agenda and their engagement in its implementation is vital. The monitoring mechanisms must therefore allow and even encourage public engagement.
In future, when we hear the words ‘Sustainable development’, we need to imagine the entire planet and its people: only then will we get a sense of how all-embracing and radical the universal 2030 Agenda actually is.
The question now is whether EU leaders and decision-makers will be far-sighted enough to see that and transform it into policy today.
The investment needed to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in September varies greatly.
This op-ed is based on WWF’s recently published position-paper ‘Towards a Sustainable European Future’.