European Commission Essays Reflect on Opportunities to Achieve SDGs
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In his essay, the European Commission First Vice-President reflects on Europe’s priorities for achieving the SDGs, including moving quickly towards a circular economy, placing food systems on a sustainable path, and greening energy, mobility and the built environment.

Bertelsmann Stiftung’s CEO cautions that the clock is “ticking fast” on the SDGs, and Europe “will fail on many goals if we continue as we are”.

8 April 2019: A conference on sustainable Europe 2030 reflected on the need for “deep economic and societal transformation” and changes in key systems to achieve the SDGs. To capture conference insights, the European Commission produced a set of short essays reflecting on discussions on topics ranging from the circular economy and artificial intelligence (AI) as key ingredients in achieving the SDGs to shaping food systems for sustainability.

Over 1,000 participants attended the conference themed, ‘Sustainable Europe 2030: From Goals to Delivery,’ which convened on 8 April in Brussels, Belgium. The European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), the European Commission’s “in-house think tank,” organized the event. In a video message for the event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres recognized the EU as a “key partner for achieving the 2030 Agenda in Europe and beyond,” and praised the EU’s commitment to engaging and empowering youth and women.

European Commission First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, in his essay, reflects on Europe’s priorities for achieving the SDGs including moving quickly towards a circular economy, placing food systems on a sustainable path, and greening energy, mobility and the built environment. He says the Commission has recommended ensuring that education, research and innovation, finance and taxation and trade policies aim to support sustainable transitions. Timmermans concludes by emphasizing that transitions towards sustainability must leave no one behind.

Europe will fail on many goals if we continue as we are.

In his essay titled, ‘Europe and the SDGs: Not Quite Ready Yet,’ Bertelsmann Stiftung CEO, Aart de Geus, cautions that the clock is “ticking fast” on the SDGs. De Geus reflects on the findings of the SDG Index Report 2018, and states that Europe “will fail on many goals if we continue as we are.” Still, de Geus writes that the Commission initiatives around the reflection paper and the SDG implementation strategy are “important steps in the right direction,” and recommends that Europe build on its strengths to become a leader in sustainable development and “play a pivotal role” in supporting developing countries to reach the SDGs.

In an essay on ‘Collaborating to Improve Every Life,’ 3M Global Chief Sustainability Officer, Gayle Schueller, shares 3M’s Strategic Sustainability Framework, which aims to set ambitious targets for air, energy, water and waste. Schueller explains that sustainability goals are incorporated at the “earliest stages of every new product’s development,” and announces 3M’s commitment to renewable energy, including 100 percent renewable energy at its headquarters.

On food systems, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014), Olivier De Schutter, describes challenges to Europe’s agricultural and food systems. He highlights the relationship among agriculture, the environment, health, trade, development cooperation, research and innovation, explaining that the Commission treats each of these policy areas as separate, yet “they all influence how we produce and consume food and what the future of our food systems will look like.” De Schutter underscores the need for a food policy that aligns these different policies and shapes food systems for sustainability. Also on food systems, Copenhagen Municipality Chief Procurement Officer, Betina Bergmann Madsen, writes that Copenhagen uses food procurement “as a tool to help us reach political goals” like the SDGs. Madsen describes how procurement can help teachers and students link food in schools to the SDGs and better understand how public procurement can contribute to sustainability.

The essays address a number of other topics, including opportunities to raise awareness on sustainability in supply chains, the role of education in achieving the SDGs, research and innovation, and sustainability hacking.

In advance of the meeting, the European Commission published a reflection paper titled, ‘Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030.’ [EC Think Pieces] [Conference Website] [UN Secretary-General Statement]

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