Review of the SDG Conference: Implementation of the Agenda 2030 by and across Europe – losing momentum or gaining traction?
11. Juli 19
On 27 June 2019, the EU-Umweltbüro, the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism and SDG Watch Austria held a conference on the SDGs, entitled "Implementation of the Agenda 2030 by and across Europe – losing momentum or gaining traction?", at the Haus der Europäischen Union in Vienna.
The two panel-sessions on “national implementations” and “Europe” featured inspiring speakers from politics, science and civil society. With Austria reporting voluntarily to UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York in 2020, the conference intended to show where Austria stands 1 year ahead of this reporting and what can be learned from others. Best practice examples from EU member states illustrated different government structures that had been created to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the national level. In this regard, the role of national governments, stakeholder participation and strategies of implementing the Agenda 2030 were discussed. Furthermore, the conference addressed the EU’s approach to the implementation of the SDGs. The conference highlighted different documents from the EU Commission, the European Parliament and recent Council decisions. Thus, the conference considered what measures need to be taken at national and European level.
The following is a summary of the most important points presented and discussed:
PANEL 1 looked at the national level at concrete implementation efforts in Austria, Germany and Romania.
The panel was opened by Christian MESETH (European Parliament Development Committee) who presented the recently published study “Europe’s approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals: good practices and the way forward”. The study was commissioned by the European Parliament for the purpose of understanding what the EU member states have done so far and plan to do on the implementation of the SDGs. For the first time, it examines and compares the national governance structures that the EU member states had created for the implementation of the SDGs. It was interesting to hear which member states have sustainability strategies in place and whether they are in line with the SDGs. Other topics that were assessed for each member state: leadership & horizontal coordination, stakeholder participation, monitoring & review, institutions for the long-term (e.g. Governments for the future) and activities of the parliaments. In terms of strategy, countries were grouped into 4 categories: No strategy (0), some cross-sectoral long-term strategy (1), overarching strategy for sustainable development new or updated since SDGs (2), overarching strategy or action plan with some operationalisation (3), strategy linked to national budget (4). Denmark and Finland were ranked highest (4) because they have linked their strategies to their national budgets. Austria is in group 1, having only some cross-sectoral long-term strategy. Besides Denmark and Finland, Germany was presented as another good example, having integrated the SDGs in the strategy but without a link to the national budget. With regards to stakeholder participation, the Czech Republic was named as a best practice example.
Birgit Andrea HORVATH (Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism) then took over and presented the ministries’ activities on the SDGs. For Austria, the starting point for the implementation of the SDGs was the decision of the Council of Ministers in 2016 to follow a mainstreaming approach. In order to increase deeper awareness for Agenda 2030 within the ministry and to translate it more specifically into work packages, policies and measures, the ministry recently published the “SDG-Action Plan 2019+” (June 2019). It consists of an overview of the latest processes, improved SDG methodologies, instruments and current and future activities.
Marie-Louise VON MÜNCHHAUSEN (Federal Chancellery Germany) presented the German Sustainable Development Strategy. Germany’s first sustainability strategy was adopted in 2002, and since then it has been reviewed every 4 years. In 2016, the German Sustainable Development Strategy was updated to become the key implementation framework for the 2030 Agenda. Apart from the Chancellor being in charge herself, the German approach is characterized by a sound institutional architecture – with the State Secretaries’ Committee as the central steering institution. Furthermore, the Participation Council for Sustainable Development, the German Council for Sustainable Development and the Parliamentary Advisory Council ensure a broad stakeholder involvement, including the parliament. The next progress report will be due in 2020.
László BORBÉLY (Government of Romania) gave insights into Romania’s way from reflection to sustainable actions. According to him, success indicators for bringing the SDGs high on the political agenda are a political willingness, a holistic vision, a strategy, the active involvement of a broad set of stakeholders, leadership and an institutional framework. Within a one-year process in 2017/2018, Romania revised its previous strategy and adapted it to the Agenda 2030 by including clear national priorities and measurable goals for monitoring its implementation. The public consultation process involved more than 1000 people and included 8 regional seminars with representatives from all levels of public administration, civil society and the private sector. In addition, national debates and conferences with trade unions, academia, research institutes, etc. were organized. Currently, the Department is working on an Action Plan for implementing the strategy.
Panel 1 ended with a brief DISCUSSION of the four speakers and Erika BERNHARD (Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs), moderated by Bernhard ZLANABITNIG (EU-Umweltbüro). Erika Bernhard emphasized Austria’s mainstreaming approach to the SDGs’ implementation. Thus every ministry has the aim to implement the SDGs and has thereby been in permanent exchange with the stakeholders. The Federal Chancellery of Austria and the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs are in charge of the coordination between the ministries. Moreover, László Borbély talked about the role of social media and new technologies to raise awareness for the SDGs and to make people participate. The inclusion of the parliament and civil society in implementing the SDGs was stressed as crucial by several speakers. For the EU, Christian Meseth demands an overarching strategy for policy coherence and integration of the SDGs into the long-term budget of the EU, the next post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework.
During the coffee break, participants could visit the exhibition “40 years of the Vienna International Centre” which was organized in cooperation with the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) Vienna.
PANEL 2 examined the European perspective and addressed the question of whether an overarching sustainability strategy is needed and of what such a strategy should contain.
Florentine HOPMEIER (European Commission, Cabinet Katainen) gave the first input by presenting the European Commission’s approach to sustainability. The approach consists of 2 steps. First, the mainstreaming of the SDGs was implemented in numerous EU policy areas, such as the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Plastic Strategy or the Action Plan on Sustainable Finance. Second, in January 2019, the European Commission released a reflection paper in which it presented three future scenarios (see below) on how the EU could implement the topic of sustainable development by 2030. The reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” is part of the Future of Europe debate. The paper is a common agreement, resulted from an inclusive multi-stakeholder process.
The paper frames the SDGs as an opportunity for Europe and a necessity to implement it – based on a huge set of scientific evidence. It is inward looking on what Europe had done so far should do in the future. Florentine Hopmeier stated that the Juncker Commission has planted the seeds with multiple policies that address the SDGs but more work will be needed, specifically in 4 areas: 1) A shift from linear to circular economy, 2) From farm to fork – looking from the entire production process to consumption, 3) Energy buildings and mobility – social infrastructure, sustainable transport solution (also for rural areas), 4) Leaving no one behind – enabling a socially fair transition
The three future scenarios of the paper are 1) the creation of an overarching SDG strategy with numerical targets, 2) the mainstreaming of the SDGs in all important EU policy areas, with increasing power to the national level, and 3) the focus on external EU policy areas (development aid). It is very likely that it will be a combination of the scenarios.
Raphael Weyland (Birdlife Europe, NABU) brought in the environmental perspective and reported from the multi-stakeholder platform on the SDGs.This platform was introduced by the European Commission in 2017 and ends by the end of 2019. It has 30 members – from business to NGOs. Its main tasks were to support and give advice on the SDGs implementation. Thus the platform gave advice on the MFF and contributed to the Commission’s reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030”. In general, the platform provided ambitious, fundamental and transformative contributions and it allowed for a good exchange. However, the advice was rather unidirectional, without any feedback back from the Commission. Moreover, the platform had no impact on changing the EU’s unsustainable policies. Raphael Weyland criticized the Commission's Reflection Paper by providing merely reflections and not an implementation strategy.
Also, he referred to the Council’s draft of a new strategic agenda for 2019-2024, which was released in June. This new strategic agenda resulted from the informal European Council meeting in Sibiu, Romania, on 9th May 2019, where the Heads of State met to discuss the strategic plans for the Union in the coming years. The SDGs do not guide this strategic agenda.
The following DISCUSSION was moderated by Katy SHIELDS (Sustainable Europe Research Institute). The discussion focused on the role of the Parliament, the Commission, science and civil society in moving us forward.
Anna CAVAZZINI, member of the new European Parliament (European Greens) referred to the vote for change at the last EU elections. Those standing for a pro-European, sustainable and progressive agenda won whereas those standing for the status quo lost votes. Hence, there is a mandate for pushing forward the SDGs as an overarching agenda.
Florentine Hopmeier confirmed that a strong European Parliament will make a difference. Likewise, the new Commission should listen to the people, marching on the streets for taking climate change seriously. The EU needs to be pro-active. For plastics, for example, an overarching strategy is necessary. Christian Meseth remarked that there will probably people in the new Commission who have never heard of the SDGs. This will be a challenge.
Sigrid Stagl, ecological economist (WU Vienna), advocated for interdisciplinary economics to improve the economic analysis and to be better able to deliver on the SDGs. Furthermore, she pointed out that young people marching in the streets get more attention than science. If scientists stand behind them and feed them with scientific findings, it can become quite effective.
Anna Cavazini questioned if a multi-stakeholder approach to the SDGs is the best way to move forward. Implementing the SDGs require a fundamental change of some crucial areas, affecting especially those who are currently in power. She emphasized that there are political fights to win and to better coordinate within the Parliament. Without a strong political will, the SDGs cannot be implemented.
Florentine Hopmeier defended the multi-stakeholder approach. The previous Commission had understood that for many topics legislation cannot be drafted in the office. The problems are complex and you need to have people on board. This is why expert groups were formed – an approach that should be continued in the future.