Commission must use sustainability ‘reflection’ paper as stepping stone to strategy with real teeth

By the European Environmental Bureau

A long-awaited European Commission ‘reflection paper’ on how to make the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality has finally seen the light of day – over three years since EU governments committed to the goals.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the paper as a useful input to a debate on preparing an implementation plan for the SDGs but criticised the European Commission for falling short of actually producing such a plan.

Alongside other civil society groups that sit on the Commission’s Multi-Stakeholder Platform on the Sustainable Development Goals, the EEB has repeatedly called for an implementation plan for the SDGs.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations with 150 members in more than 30 countries.

The SDGs are widely viewed as the world’s ‘crisis plan’ to end poverty and protect the planet.

Patrizia Heidegger, Director of Global Policies and Sustainability at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

“It is disappointing that it took the Commission over three years to come up with a reflection paper on the Sustainable Development Goals when what we urgently need is a plan on how to implement them. The time for reflection was in 2015, when the EU and its Member States signed up to the SDGs. Now is the time for ambitious commitments to action. We also expect more honest stock-taking: on average, the EU has one of the world’s worst environmental footprint per capita, with our unsustainable lifestyles based on resource and labour exploitation in other parts of the world. The economy of the future needs to take into account the environmental and social impact beyond our borders rather than living in the illusion of a low-carbon, resource efficient Europe that exports resource-intensive production to other parts of the world.”

Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General, said:

“The SDGs must provide the overarching policy framework for the EU, guiding and shaping the priorities of the next Commission when it takes up office in the autumn. This reflection paper, even if regrettably lacking in specific commitments, provides some pointers to what needs to be done and must be a key point of reference for European leaders and the new Commission President when developing those priorities.”

Today’s ‘A Sustainable Europe Towards 2030’ reflection paper is meant to set the tone for EU governments meeting for a high-level summit on the future of the European project in Sibiu in May.

As regards the three scenarios presented in the paper, the EEB believes that while the overarching role of the SDGs for the EU and its Member States as envisaged under the first scenario is paramount, mainstreaming sustainability into all European Commission policies in line with the second scenario is also of key importance. However, the paper’s claim that the Juncker Commission has mainstreamed sustainable development priorities across its policies since the start of its mandate is particularly unconvincing.

“The new Commission will need to go into a higher gear,” added Wates. “The level of mainstreaming of sustainability into current policies has been pitifully inadequate, whether it be in relation to transforming the Common Agriculture Policy into a sustainable food and farming policy or making the new Multi-Annual Financial Framework truly sustainability-proof. Continuing with business-as-usual is not an option.”

The third scenario with its emphasis on spreading the EU’s standards to the rest of the world downplays the urgency for the EU to reduce its own disproportionate impact on the world environment, though having been a leader in terms of creating environmental damage, the EU does have much to offer in terms of solutions. Therefore, there are elements of all three scenarios that are needed.

Civil society groups have repeatedly denounced the European Commission’s failure to put the goals at the heart of all EU policies, with President Juncker making virtually no mention of them in the State of the Union addresses he gives to the European Parliament each September where he sets out his priorities for the coming months.

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