Is the EU ready to walk the talk on sustainable development?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Woman cutting grass. Royal Bardia National Park buffer zone, Nepal. [Simon de TREY-WHITE / WWF-UK]

A new era will be heralded this week in New York, with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. The EU has been negotiating long and hard on this. Now is the time to put the good words into practice, writes Geneviève Pons-Deladrière.

Geneviève Pons-Deladrière is Director of the WWF European Policy Office.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give us an integrated and interlinked package of goals and targets covering the economic, social and environmental dimensions of every aspect of our lives. The seventeen goals are about people, the planet, prosperity, peace and more. Significantly, the goals and targets are universal, thus all countries will be expected to act and contribute to their achievement domestically and internationally. It is not a question of North and South or ‘them’ and ‘us’ – it is an agenda designed for every government to tackle today’s global challenges. Once the 2015 UN Summit ends, we will be looking to EU leaders to return home to make this transformative agenda a reality. 

Together with hundreds of organisations from all over Europe and from many different sectors, WWF has written to Vice-President Frans Timmermans asking him to show leadership in transforming the ambition of the SDGs into a reality in the EU.

We are asking the European Commission to come forward with a long-term and ambitious strategy to implement these new global goals to 2030. In Europe, achieving this agenda will entail scrutiny of the European Union’s oversized environmental footprint. From a highly inefficient production and consumption system that uses the natural resources of 2.6 Earths and depletes resources globally, we need to move to a new model that ensures a fairer and more efficient way of living within the boundaries of one planet. Amongst other things, we expect the EU to come up with a comprehensive and far-reaching circular economy package to deliver on the sustainable consumption and production elements of the 2030 Agenda. The revision of the Europe 2020 strategy is a perfect opportunity, too, to make a start on the implementation of these sustainable development commitments within and across all sectors. 

The cost of this global agenda is not prohibitive, particularly bearing in mind the costs of inaction. It can be met through allocating resources, public and private, domestic and international, in different, more effective ways and getting rid of expenditures which currently promote unsustainable development inside and outside the EU. For example, across the whole of the EU, the scale of fossil fuel subsidies – at €60 billion in 2011 – is six times the level of public climate finance, €9.5 billion, committed in 2013 by the EU. As a major aid donor, the EU will continue to support development in other parts of the world.  While this is crucially important, it is nowhere near enough if EU policies in areas such as trade, agriculture, energy and investment impacting negatively people and the environment in developing countries are not also re-assessed. The activities of EU companies abroad including investments in extractive industries such as logging, mining and fisheries should also be consistent with sustainability criteria and human rights to ensure coherence.

We are expecting Vice-President Timmermans, who has been given the mandate of sustainable development, to invigorate efforts for greater coordination and implementation of the 2030 Agenda goals and targets across the Commission. 

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals brings a joined-up approach to environment and development which has been long-awaited by the international community since it was promised by the first Rio Conference more than twenty years ago. WWF will continue working to ensure that the EU walks the talks in promoting a world which prioritises human well-being, equality, prosperity and an end to poverty within the boundaries of our one planet.

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