Experts call for amendment to German constitution to reach SDGs

Bernd Bornhorst []

This article is part of our special report Towards sustainable development goals.

In September, the international community plans to set the new development goals (SDGs), for wealthy, industrialised countries as well. Now, experts in Germany are calling for tough reforms to end suffering in the global South.

The to-do list for a better world includes 17 main goals and 169 targets – such as ending poverty to provide a healthy life for all and protecting the world’s oceans and seas. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in September and will apply to all countries, even the rich ones.

The conventional understanding of development policy, that only the poor countries in the global south are seen as the problem, has become outdated.

Now, development experts are sounding the alarm: The SDGs pose new challenges to Germany and other EU countries, which are faced with making difficult cutbacks at the national level.

“The German government has got to come up with binding national targets that completely depict the catalogue of targets set by the SDGs,” Bernd Bornhorst, of the umbrella organisation of German development NGOs, VENRO, told EURACTIV Germany.

Consumption linked to devastating effects in poor countries

There are many areas that need improvement in Germany and all over Europe, said Günther Bachmann, managing director of the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE).

“We need to reduce our ecological footprint. We need more resources than we would be entitled to in a just world. Through our resource consumption, we are creating unsustainable conditions in developing and newly industrialising countries,” Bachmann argued.

One target included in the proposed SDGs is to cut food waste in half by 2030. To do this, all countries must tackle the problem along the entire supply chain and dramatically reduce waste production from consumption in wealthy countries, he said.

“We are causing inhumane suffering due to our consumption – also among seamstresses in Bangladesh and soy cultivators in Brazil,” the RNE director explained.

Textile alliance is just a start

Meanwhile, German Development Minister Gerd Müller has already made sustainable supply chains a priority, with considerable success. Almost all big apparel companies have joined his textile alliance, which seeks to promote fair trade clothing. And at the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau, the German government was also able to inspire other industrialised countries to develop similar alliances of their own.

But for Bachmann, the textile alliance, in its current form, is just a start. “If we look at leather production in Bangladesh and India, for example, the conditions stink, in the most literal sense of the world,” he said.

Bachmann is calling for clear rules for sustainable consumption. These should be included in the National Sustainable Development Strategy, which is expected to be updated in 2016.

Protection of the oceans should also be addressed there. “We have got to push for technical solutions against plastic pollution, put acidification and warming of the oceans on the political agenda, address over-fishing and load limits for shelf seas and deep seas with regard to drilling, mining and submarine noise sources,” the RNE director indicated.

Anchoring sustainability in the Basic Law

Because recommendations from previous sustainability strategies were often not translated into legislation, there is a need to reform the German Basic Law accordingly, Bachmann said.

He proposes firmly anchoring principles of sustainability in the provisions on state objectives in Article 20. Here, he said, there must be an additional measure stating that the government is obliged to follow the principles of sustainability. These principles would then have to be implemented in laws or declarations.

According to Bachmann, the principles in question should include expanding renewable energy sources, decarbonisation, recycling and sustainable financial policy. VENRO’s Bornhorst also called for fair organisation of international trade policy and regulation of financial markets.

“More specifically, every law should include a content-based sustainability assessment and not just on a formal basis. Such laws should then be rejected in the Bundestag if they do not satisfy the principles of sustainability,” Bachmann explained.

RNE is also calling for a similar procedure at the EU level. “The EU’s sustainability strategy was an unloved child under former Commission President Barroso. The Juncker Commission should give the issue more attention in the future. Frans Timmermans should insist on a sustainability assessment for every directive and every regulation,” Bachmann said.

The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) was convened by the German government for the first time in April 2001. Its members include 15 public officials. The council’s tasks are to develop papers on implementation of National Sustainable

Development Strategy, to define concrete fields of action and projects as well as to make sustainability an important public issue.

In April 2002, the German government signed off on its National Sustainable Development Strategy . The document was defined by the results of consultations among societal groups and recommendations from the Council for Sustainable Development.

Since its creation, progress reports have helped to further develop the German sustainability strategy. The next progress report is planned to be released in 2016. The Post-2015 Agenda for sustainable development, which the international community is expected to assemble in September 2015, is likely to play a central role.

  • 13-16 July: Third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • 25-27 September: United Nations Summit in New York to adopt Sustainable development goals
  • 30 November-11 December: United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris

EU institutions:

International organisations:


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