2030 Agenda: An opportunity for the European Union

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A dream continues

The vision, ideals and principles of the 2030 Agenda are strongly anchored in the values of the European Union (EU). This Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can become an integral part of the identity of the EU and bring new energy to the dream that the EU continues to represent for so many people, way beyond its borders.


We are at a crucial moment in our collective effort to build sustainable, equitable and inclusive societies.

Billions of people continue to live in poverty and are denied a life of dignity. There are enormous disparities of opportunity, wealth and power, and an alarming number of people who suffer in ways that others do not. Gender inequality remains a key challenge. Global health threats, more frequent and intense natural disasters, spiralling and interlinked conflicts, violent extremism and related humanitarian crises and forced displacement of people threaten to reverse development gains of recent decades. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse effects undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development. The capacity of oceans to provide their vital services, and the survival of the planet’s biodiversity, are at risk.

2030 Agenda: Transformative Change

In September 2015, the international community, with strong involvement of the EU, gave itself the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is the missing ‘vision’ piece of the globalization puzzle. There is very little in the Agenda that does not have the potential to truly effect a transformative change, and part of the reason is because of its integrated approach to the challenges the world is facing. Its interconnected nature means that each strand of policy cannot be pursued independently of the other.  Policies will need to take into account their various dimensions, leverage synergies, and navigate trade-offs.

This requires us to look closely at the inter-linkages between sectors – between various levels of Government, and among the multiple actors of civil society and the private sector – and break down the silos that stop us from working together. It compels us to better understand specific national and local situations, and tailor our actions accordingly.

The 2030 Agenda reminds us that the countries of this world are interdependent, and that sustainability cannot fully be achieved unilaterally. It entails looking much more seriously at the coherence of policies that shape our international relationships, such as trade and the rules that govern our value changes, fiscal policies, migration, etc. and gauge them against the 2030 Agenda.

Implementation: Not a centrally-managed global development Project

Indeed, we face tremendous challenges in our efforts towards more integrated implementation of the SDGs. But inclusive, accountable and innovative international cooperation at all levels can help us overcome these challenges and strengthen the coherent linkages among various development interventions.

This also means that implementation cannot be approached as a classic centrally-managed global development project. It will require the participation, ideas and drive of everyone.

Probably the most significant change in paradigm brought about by this new Agenda is the commitment to leave no one behind. We are well beyond measuring poverty only in GDP terms.  In a manner of speaking, the 169 targets underpinning the SDGs are 169 ways of explaining how no one is to be left behind.

This implies that we need to know who the most vulnerable are, understand the threats and challenges they face, and systematically build their resilience and empowerment into our national, regional and local development strategies.

No doubt, the key responsibility for implementing the Agenda lies with national governments. If the SDGs are to be achieved, they have to become the basis of a new social contract between leaders and their People.

Germany’s national voluntary review

Countries of the EU have an important platform at the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) to share their experiences in shaping new institutional arrangements and adjusting policies to implement the Goals. For instance, Germany’s national voluntary review at the 2016 HLPF highlighted its National Sustainable Development Strategy as a key framework for achieving the SDGs.

Moreover, the German G20 Presidency’s initiative on Africa to strengthen sustainable private investments, and investments in infrastructure and renewable energies, is an important promotor for implementation, including at the regional Level.

The shared vision of the 2030 Agenda can become an integral part of the identity of the EU, especially given its unique integration, coordination and common policies. It is crucial for the world that the EU uphold the 2030 Agenda as a beacon and remain at the forefront of its implementation. Particularly now.

There are several important ways it can do this.

First, it is important that the highest level of government remains committed and engaged in implementing the SDGs. The EU can create such dynamics among its members, if its highest bodies project their determination to reach the goals.  The SDGs would therefore need to be on the agenda of the European Council summit Meetings.

Second, the EU can provide a framework to support its Member States’ efforts to implement the SDGs. The European Parliament’s launch of preparations of an overarching Sustainable Development Strategy go into this direction. At all times, we must bear in mind that the commitments of the 2030 Agenda go way beyond development cooperation and include domestic reforms and policy coherence – an area where the EU is highly advanced.

Third, the EU can support the realization of the principles of the 2030 Agenda. It can stimulate a new reflection on what is required to leave no one behind. No country should accept that some people are too hard to reach because they live on the margins of society.

The EU can champion the 2030 Agenda and its principles through the way it works, through the way it deals with its refugee crisis, through the way it engages and consults people in each and every one of its decision making processes.

Fourth, the EU can champion ambitious approaches to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. At the national level, it can empower parliaments to continuously review progress, with the help of civil society and other stakeholders such as youth and business. At the regional level, Member States can continuously review each other’s progress towards the SDGs, putting in place a system of peer reviews focused on the SDGs.  The outcomes of such reviews could feed into the reviews at the HLPF, in addition to the national voluntary Reviews.

Commitment required

Ultimately, the achievement of the SDGs will require commitment to the children of this world and to future generations, that the 2030 Agenda is not just a new deal among nations, but a solemn promise to its people.

What greater cause could there be today than building bridges of cooperation, and to strive for a life of dignity for all. Let us make this shared vision of humanity the common cause of the EU.

Image: Thomas Gass

Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).

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