A Plan for the Future: How Strong Strategies Can Bring a More Sustainable Europe


Around 1,000 days ago, the EU signed a historic agreement, along with 200 other countries. It was a UN-brokered deal to make every aspect of the world’s economies and societies truly sustainable. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set 17 SDGs for 2030, which, once met, will transform everything from health to nature, to gender, to jobs.

Yet 1,000 days later – give or take a few – the EU still has no strategy in place for how to meet those Goals. It has relied instead, so far, on policy initiatives in particular areas, hoping that they would, once implemented, somehow add up to the equivalent of the 2030 Agenda.

In some areas progress has certainly been made. Take climate change and energy as an example. The EU signed the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015 and, while it has still not brought its policy and efforts in line with the Agreement’s goals to keep temperature rise to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, things are slowly moving. In March 2018, Heads of State called for a long-term EU climate strategy in line with the Paris Agreement. In April, seven member States asked for a pathway to be set out towards “net zero emissions.” Accordingly, the European Commission will deliver a document mapping EU climate possibilities to 2050 – including a net zero emissions option – by spring 2019.

Getting this 2050 climate strategy right is a dire necessity, given that we are staring down the barrel of the gun of climate devastation – and the impacts that it would have on people and the planet. However, it is also an opportunity for the EU to act on a global emergency, patch up its climate credibility and lead the way to an energy efficient, renewable energy future.

But however strong the EU’s climate strategy, alone it will not be enough to fulfil the EU’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda. The European Commission has said it will publish a “reflection paper” on the Agenda’s implementation and to follow up on the Paris Agreement in autumn 2018. How is it that nearly three years after signing up to the 2030 Agenda and its Goals, the European Commission is still “reflecting,” not acting?

The EU has historically been a respected global player on sustainability, but it cannot cool its heels and rest on an outdated reputation when the survival of people and the planet is at stake.

On climate action, the EU must speed up the progress it is making, and build a strong, consistent and workable strategy for reducing emissions to net zero by 2050 at the latest in line with the Paris Agreement, as those seven progressive member States called for. This is widely supported by business and civil society.

But just as urgently, the EU must stop kicking the can down the road and get to work on an overarching and transformative SDG strategy – including climate change, but also bringing in the other SDGs from nature protection (SDGs 14 and 15) to gender equality (SDG 5) to water quality (SDG 6) – which can be rapidly implemented, before many more days tick by. Our lives and wellbeing depend on it.