Commission must step up SDG implementation and fully involve civil society

Posted on 22 June 2021

National governments have urged the European Commission to accelerate the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.
The conclusions, which were adopted by the General Affairs Council today in response to a Commission document from November 2020 detailing its planned approach to the SDGs, call for clarity on elements which lacked precision, or for which results have yet to be seen.

In particular, ministers have advocated for the re-establishment of the multi-stakeholder platform to advise the Commission on the implementation of the goals. This platform ran from 2017 to 2019 under the previous Commission and enabled civil society to contribute directly to SDG implementation. WWF, a member of the former platform, has long criticized its suspension, and the lack of civil society involvement in the Commission’s strategy.
 
“The previous former multi-stakeholder platform was a crucial forum for fostering exchange between stakeholders, and to allow civil society to hold the Commission to account on SDG implementation. The Commission must heed Member States’ call to urgently re-establish the platform,” said Rebecca Humphries, Senior Public Affairs Officer at the WWF European Policy Office. “Without it, civil society risks being shut out of the development of EU solutions for sustainable development, which runs counter to the principles of the 2030 Agenda.”

Further, the Council conclusions detail how the EU can ensure that the goals are effectively embedded in all EU policies, notably through an integration in the annual programming cycle, by starting a dialogue on the basis of the annual Eurostat SDG monitoring report, and through an SDG assessment of the Commission’s Work Programme. WWF would welcome such an approach, as it would accelerate a mainstreaming of the SDGs into all EU policies.
 
Lastly, the conclusions also call on the Commission to present concrete actions for the implementation of the SDGs that are coherent with its stated priorities such as the European Green Deal, and for Member States to raise their level of ambition in national responses to SDG implementation.
 
The governments’ calls come on the heels of the annual Eurostat report on the state of SDG implementation published last week (15 June), which – once again – highlighted the EU’s shortcomings with meeting its obligations, especially with regard to biodiversity (Goal 15), clean energy (goal 7) and climate action (goal 13). While the report is yet to fully account for impacts from the pandemic, Eurostat noted that this made the achievement of the SDGs more difficult. 

Importantly, Eurostat emphasised the strong interlinkages between the goals - with progress in one area potentially impeding it in another -, which as a result should not be monitored in silos. Consequently, individual policies will be insufficient in addressing the SDGs, and a coordinated ‘whole of government’ approach including all Commissioners must instead be applied as soon as possible. This need is reflected in the Council conclusions, which call on the Commission to further clarify its governance structure and individual Commissioners’ responsibilities, and to better clarify how the SDGs will be integrated into the European Semester.

“Several months after the adoption of the Commission’s staff working document on the SDGs, we’ve yet to see the ‘whole of government’ approach promised by President von der Leyen put into practice. These conclusions are a helpful reminder to the Commission to take these commitments seriously,” concluded Rebecca Humphries.

From 6 to 15 July, the high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF) will once again meet in New York to discuss international progress on the goals, on the theme of a sustainable and resilient recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.