2030 Agenda: SDGs and the Future of Europe

By Maruxa Cardama – External Adviser to the CPMR Secretariat on Global Agendas

Sustainable Development Goals image

A blueprint for the future of the whole European project

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was adopted at the United Nations in September 2015, following unprecedented levels of engagement with local and regional governments, civil society, the private sector and academia; with the EU playing an instrumental role in shaping the intergovernmental agreement.

The 2030 Agenda consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets, which the international community has pledged to achieve by 2030. The SDGs are a roadmap to end poverty in all its forms, promote equitable prosperity, protect the planet; and ultimately to shift the world towards a more sustainable path. As such they provide a framework in which to embed the future of the EU.

Why? Because the 17 SDGs aim to address the root causes of the wide range of interconnected social, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities facing poor, middle-income and rich countries in the 21st century and to which the peoples of Europe are not immune.

The European Commission’s Communication in November 2016 puts this very clearly:

European societies today face many sustainability challenges from youth unemployment to ageing populations, climate change, pollution, sustainable energy and migration… To preserve the European social model and social cohesion, it is essential to invest in our young people, foster inclusive and sustainable growth, tackle inequalities and manage well migration… To preserve our natural capital, it is crucial to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient, resource efficient and circular economy. For these challenges to become opportunities for new businesses and new jobs, a strong engagement in research and innovation is needed.

Delivering SDGs through a territorial approach

In November 2015, the CPMR made clear that the universality of the 2030 Agenda can and must be compatible with a differentiated and territorial approach to its implementation.

Through SDG11, the 2030 Agenda sets out an unprecedented global resolve “to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” But the urban and territorial dimension – so inherent to the territorial development model encouraged by the EU – is critically important for addressing the other 16 SDGs in an interconnected manner. Delivering the SDGs in practice requires planning and implementation strategies that have integration and interlinkages as foundations.

It is commonly agreed that the SDGs must be localised: translated into concrete actions for territorial development and positive impact on local communities. This global agenda will fail to deliver any real positive transformation for people and the planet if there is no empowerment of local and regional governments and ownership by citizens. The European Commission’s Report about the “Territorial Approach to Local Development” (TALD) launched last year, is therefore, a flagship piece of EU development policy.

There is also increased understanding that localising the SDGs means giving local and regional governments a leading role in the process, as well as commensurate resources. A study by Misselwitz et al[1] shows that the implementation of up to 65% of the SDGs is at risk if local urban stakeholders are not involved: 21% of the 169 targets can only be implemented with local actors and an additional 24% should be implemented with them. A further 20% of the 169 targets should have a much clearer orientation towards implementation with local actors, even if the (current) SDGs wording does not suggest this.

The European Commission has stated that the EU will implement the SDGs “together with its Member States, in line with the principle of subsidiarity.” Multi-level governance is crucial in ensuring that this principle of subsidiarity is effectively put in practice. Regional governments – in their capacity as an intermediate level of government between the national and local levels, with direct engagement in global multilateral processes – are central to this.

The negotiations towards SDG11 also confirmed a desire to move away from an anachronistic dichotomy between urban and rural areas. The regional development model that the EU has pursued, based on the notion of integrated territorial development, offers extraordinary synergies with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This approach has been recognised at global level to reinforce the idea of complementary functions and flows of people, capital, goods, employment, resources, information and technology between rural and urban territories of various sizes such as metropolitan regions, networks of small and intermediate towns or sparsely populated areas.

The CPMR is right to insist strongly that balanced territorial development, focused on addressing territorial disparities, should be at the heart of the reform agenda in the reflections on the future of Europe

Moreover, the combination of SDG11 on cities and communities and SDG10 on “reducing inequalities within and among countries” reinvigorates the role of the EU’s Cohesion Policy as an enabler of the values of solidarity and social cohesion that are so intrinsic to the European project. Equally, SDG10 calls, among other things, for reducing inequalities in income as well as those based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status within a country. All these elements are inextricably linked to fundamental European values.

Where do we go from here?

The November 2016 Commission’s Communication announced the launch of a reflection on how the EUs sectoral policies after 2020 can be refocused around the long-term implementation of the SDGs, including a reorientation of the EU budget under the next Multi-annual Financial Framework post-2020 towards these goals.

The CPMRs has recognised the importance of this reorientation of policies around delivering the SDGs in its position adopted in November 2015.

Since then, important developments have shaken the very foundations of the EU and called into question the fundamental human values that underpin the European social model. The SDGs offer a solid foundation to rekindle the European values and collectively trace a meaningful future for the European project that speaks to the needs of European peoples in this century of interconnected global challenges and opportunities. The SDGs also embrace a territorial dimension that is so characteristic of the European model of regional development. European local and regional governments are heavily engaged in multiple initiatives to localise the SDGs and translate them into relevant frameworks for their local realities and communities. Is the European Union ready to tap into this huge potential?

[1] Misselwitz, P. et al. The Urban Dimension of the SDGs: Implications for the New Urban Agenda. In: Sustainable Development Goals and Habitat III: Opportunities for a successful New Urban Agenda. Cities Alliance Discussion Paper No. 3. November 2015.