At the end of September, the United Nations adopted its ‘Agenda 2030’, providing a framework for all countries to help eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030. As First Vice-President responsible for sustainable development, I had the honour to represent the European Commission at this UN Summit, which adopted an ambitious set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (‘SDGs’) with the aim of ‘transforming our world’.
Such global calls sometimes arouse scepticism and the question whether they can make any difference. Yet it is astonishing how much has been achieved since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. A quarter of the world’s population was born after that date; today they are aged 15 or younger. Of all these kids, 9 out of 10 now get to go to school. Those who are babies or toddlers are half as likely to die compared to 1990, and their mothers were half as likely to die in childbirth. For the girls among them, their chances of having real opportunities – even if by no means equal opportunities yet – have greatly improved, at school, at work and in life. Just picture the people behind these figures: the Millennium Development Goals have made a difference.
The entire international community mobilised around shared objectives. As a result, many millions of children have come into a much better world than the generation before them. This effort has helped the world to unite against indifference. The EU made an important contribution to driving this global agenda, because we believe this push for social progress and a fairer future is in essence what the United Nations was set up to achieve.
Now the world is ready for the next chapter. The Millenium Development Goals reflected the recognition that the lack of development of some countries is a threat to us all. It must now be recognised that unsustainable development also jeopardises our future. This is a challenge that we are committing to overcome together. That makes the 2030 Agenda even more universal
than the previous one. The new goals build on the Millenium Development Goals
and the fight against poverty continues. As
there is a lot of “unfinished business”, there
is no excuse for countries like those in the
EU not meeting our 0.7% target for official
development assistance. It is more urgent
than ever. But the SDGs are not just about
where developing countries need to go and
how we must help them get there. It is an
agenda that expands the development
goals and is for all countries – rich and poor alike. This is no longer just about giving
development aid to others. It is also about change at home, to sustain our economies,
and to preserve the planet for others. Fundamentally, this is about rethinking
everything we do. It is a long list of targets
that we have agreed on, but for a good
reason. These goals are comprehensive.
They reflect the reality of today’s complex,
interlinked world, and the daunting scale
of today’s problems.
REDEFINE OUR RELATIONS WITH
For the very first time in the history of mankind,
not only are we connected to what is
happening all over the planet, but we can
also see how the limits of our planet are
being put to the test. We see inequalities
increasing and social cohesion eroding.
And at the same time we see global competition
for resources at an all-time high.
The models that worked for so many of us
in the past are not ones that will work for
all of us in the future. Some of the world’s
largest and strongest economies grew by
exploiting finite resources. They cannot
keep it up, and nor can others use the same
development route to catch up with them.
We have to redefine our societies and our
relationship with nature.
We have to take collective action to keep
the global temperature rise below 2
degrees Celsius as we all grow. The Paris
conference in December provides a historic
opportunity to accelerate the shift to
a low-carbon, climate-resilient global economy.
We submitted an ambitious contribution
in March – a binding, economy-wide
emissions reduction target of at least 40%
by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The
EU stands united and ready to conclude
an ambitious, robust and binding global
climate deal. We will settle for nothing less.
Collective action is also needed to make our economies circular – leaving behind our “take-make-consume and dispose” growth pattern. Before the end of the year, we will present new measures to increase re-use and recycling in Europe and boost intelligent product design. Our actions will cover the full circle from consumption to production to modern waste management, so that Europe remains a frontrunner in this field. We want to give an impetus to a new generation of businesses that are sustainable and resource efficient, using state of the art technologies. Our package will also include measures to tackle food waste – it is unacceptable that a third of the food produced worldwide is thrown
Transforming our world also means having cleaner air, water and oceans and preserving biodiversity. According to economists, each year we lose 3% of GDP due to biodiversity loss. The deterioration of our natural capital jeopardises the wealth and employment we derive from nature. Biodiversity is our life insurance worth fighting for: it is giving us food, fresh water, clean air and mitigating natural disasters and diseases while contributing to regulating the climate. Developing in a sustainable way also means moving towards a growth model that is both socially inclusive and fair. Taking action so that taxation occurs where profit is made and developing a strong European pillar of social rights are
both on top of the Commission’s agenda. In this context, one of the priority areas is how to help working parents. In 2015 it is still more difficult for women to juggle work and family life than for men, let alone to move up the ladder. The pay gap between men and women is still a reality. Gender equality is far from being achieved and we will not close our eyes to it, thinking the problem will naturally solve itself. We have to take action and will present a new initiative in 2016, focusing not just on mothers, but on the role of fathers too. We will also continue to emphasise the promotion of fundamental rights. Democracy, the rule of law and gender equality are all key prerequisites to achieving fairer development and, ultimately, protecting human dignity.
PREPARING OUR ANSWER FOR 2016
Sustainable development is not just an economic or social challenge, or an environmental problem: it is all three, and our efforts on each need to reinforce one another. The Commission is now analysing where we stand on each of the SDGs, in order to prepare our response in 2016. We will fully engage with the UN in experience sharing, capacity building, and progress monitoring. Ultimately, this is all about global governance and breaking out of silos. The SDGs will not only shape the EU’s external policies. They will also infuse our internal policies. We have to be creative and step out of our comfort zone. These are not impossible goals. We have innovation on our side to find solutions. This transformative 2030 Agenda is about eradicating poverty and putting sustainability at the heart of everything we do. This is not just the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do: for our economy, for our environment, for our society. We have a world to transform, this common Agenda shows the way how.