Time to reach for the moon -The EU needs to step up action and lead the transformation to sustainability

By Patrizia Heidegger, EEB

The EU and its Member States were a driving force behind the negotiation and adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now, the EU’s lea­dership is needed to make the Goals a reality, at home and globally. The EU has the power to pass transformative laws and commands the resources needed to drive the transition towards sustainability. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called the European Green Deal, which she has put forward to address many of our sustainability challenges, the EU’s “man on the moon moment”. The time is now for the EU to reach for the moon and lead by example.

The EU, which prides itself on its core values of human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law, has many positive achievements to its credit: cleaner rivers and better waste management, reduced chemical pollution, stronger social protection and consumer rights, quality education and free movement within the Schengen area, to name a few.

But the EU’s ambition to be a frontrunner for the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs has yet to be realised. If everyone in the world lived like the average European, we would need 2.6 planets to satisfy our demands on nature. Our economic system, characterised by labour exploitation and resource depletion, overconsumption, and waste, is not sustainable. It has deepened inequalities and social exclusion, globally and within most Member States, and will deprive future genera­tions of the ability to meet their needs. 

The indicators used by the EU to monitor and report on the SDGs provide an overly positive picture. The yearly Eurostat SDG report celebrates even the slowest progress but ignores pressing challenges, including our global ecological footprint, homelessness, and human rights violations in European supply chains. It does not ask which policies drive sustainability, and which undermine it, which funds support the transition, and which block it. The European Commission does not promote a public debate about its SDG report’s fin­dings and what needs to be done to accelerate action. There is no role for civil society in the EU’s SDG monitoring.

This is why SDG Watch Europe presents an SDG monitoring report for the EU now to take stock where we stand and to hold the EU to account on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs five years after their adoption.

This report explains why the EU’s SDG reporting creates an illusion of sustainability and makes concrete proposals for meaningful monitoring to become a stronger foundation for transformative policies. We tell a more critical story about sustainability in the EU. Our report flags up serious gaps, bringing them to life with 17 individual stories. We also share our vision of what a truly sustainable Europe could look like. We show what we can achieve by 2030 if we do the right things now, building on our Manifesto for a Sustainable Europe for its Citizens, published by civil society for the 2019 European Elections. We offer 17 solutions, real-life examples of progressive policies, innova­tive initiatives and truly sustainable business models. These glimpses of a sustainable Europe nurture hope and inspire action in people – and need a progressive political framework to support and scale them up.

We would like to thank all members and partners of SDG Watch Europe for pooling their knowledge and wisdom to create this report, and for sharing their vision of a sustainable Europe for its people. The time to act is now!

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