A little less reflection, a lot more action: NGOs press Commission for sustainability strategy

Campaigners have called on the European Commission to stop ‘reflecting’ and start acting when it comes to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — over three years on from when EU governments committed to meeting them.

Reacting to the publication of a much-anticipated European Commission ‘reflection paper‘ on how to make the SDGs a reality, groups that have been following the EU’s sustainability progress cautiously welcomed the paper.

The SDGs were adopted by 193 countries in 2015 at the UN and are widely viewed as the world’s ‘crisis plan’ to end poverty and protect the planet.

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said that while it was regrettable the paper lacked “specific commitments” it would provide “pointers to what needs to be done” and that it must be a “key point of reference for European leaders and the new Commission President” when they take up officer following the European elections in May.

Today’s document is also likely to set the tone for EU governments’ political discussions on the future of the European project over the coming months, in particular a major summit in Sibiu, Romania, this May.

Civil society groups have repeatedly denounced the European Commission’s failure to put the SDGs 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.

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.”

Launching today’s paper, Jyrki Katainen, European Commissioner for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, said sustainability is “part of Europe’s DNA.

But Patrizia Heidegger said more “honest stock-taking” on the EU’s sustainability progress was necessary.

Heidegger said:

“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.”

German nature protection group NABU said today’s reflection paper was “too vague and non-binding“.