Sustainability is not just a buzzword anymore. It embodies the collective aspirations of the world and is a clarion call for the need to balance prosperity with social equity and ecological conservation. The recently released Europe Sustainable Development report 2019 assesses the progress made in the realization of SDGs, charts the various parameters, points the gaps, and identifies policy priorities for the European Union (EU) to achieve the SDGs and implement the Paris Climate Agreement. The report has been prepared by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SSDN) and the Institute for European Environmental Policy. The top three countries, as per the report, are the North European nations Denmark, Sweden, and Finland
A three-fold strategy has been mentioned in the report for tackling domestic SDG implementation challenges: implementing the European Green Deal for energy decarbonization; investing in education and innovation, and harnessing the potential of digital technologies for Europe’s sustainable development. It also notes that “EU can play a critical role in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations, and critical environment conventions, including for climate and biodiversity. In addition, the Union should use the SDGs to help guide major bilateral exchanges, including with Africa and other world regions”.
Europe is at the forefront in inching close to the SDGs, as ten countries that are closest to achieving the SDGs are all in Europe. However, the report also mentions that even the progress made by these countries needs to be accelerated.
Climate change mitigation, biodiversity, circular economy and reducing economic disparity across regions and countries, are among the major challenges faced by Europe in the realization of SDGs. The report further states that, “countries need to accelerate progress towards climate change (SDG 13), sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), protection and conservation of biodiversity (SDGs 14 and 15), and sustainable agriculture and food systems (SDG 2)” A lot of countries are lagging behind in inclusiveness and equity, so there is need for more emphasis on social inclusion and shared prosperity.
Another area of concern is of spillovers, which is a quite broad term and includes environmental spillovers (industrial effluents, greenhouse emissions, loss of biodiversity), finance spillovers (banking, secrecy), and security spillovers related to the international weapons trade. The report highlights the need to keep these spillovers in check.
The report mentions that some of Europe’s environmental damages are also embedded in imports from other regions where greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and unregulated wastes are very high. “The European Green Deal, underpinned by a new Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, must deliver significant and rapid reductions of greenhouse gases by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050”, it says.
There is a need to completely transform policymaking and focus on the priority areas. The report identifies essential ways and requirements:
Financial planning and policy regulations: The focus should be cost-efficient methods and a judicious mix of regulatory mechanism, public investments and incentivization
Subsidiary Analysis: Different responsibilities should be assigned to different governments at each level: local, regional, and national. Also, institutions at the EU level – (Commission, Council, Parliament, European Investment Bank) – have to be included.
Mission-oriented Research and Innovation: Forging public-private research and development priorities for achieving the SDGs and the objectives of the Paris Agreement;
Metrics and Monitoring: Using a set of parameters and indicators to constantly gauge progress made and create a process of feedback
“The EU needs to define clear targets that can guide policy implementation and the monitoring of progress. In the short term, policy tools must be made coherent with a particular focus on budgets, measurement and reporting, and coordination with and across member states”, the report adds.