In a world striving for sustainable progress, it is evident that significant challenges loom large halfway through the timeline of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals . The European Economic and Social Committee , in its opinion adopted in October plenary stresses the necessity for the European Union  to adopt an integrated and comprehensive strategy with ambitious, long-term goals and plans.

The UN’s special edition of the SDGs progress report provides an alarming wake-up call, revealing that many SDGs are off track on a global scale. An initial assessment of approximately 140 targets with available data paints a bleak picture. Globally, only about 12% of these targets are currently on track, with close to half making some progress but still falling moderately or severely off track. Most concerning is the fact that around 30% of these targets have either stagnated or regressed below the 2015 baseline.

The EESC underscores the importance of a long-term political commitment from the Commission, extending beyond the current term of office. This commitment should involve early stakeholder involvement, representation from other institutions, and adequate resources to ensure inclusive civil society organization participation. The EESC firmly believes that the SDGs must remain a long-term commitment even beyond 2030.

Maria Nikolopoulou the rapporteur of the opinion said: ‘’We urge the Commission to keep the SDG implementation high on the political agenda, even beyond 2030, and put the means to prepare an EU overarching strategy for the next mandate.’’

To accelerate progress on the SDGs, the EU should transition from a siloed approach to a holistic one, simplifying its policies and instruments for sustainable development. In the pursuit of the SDGs, the EESC advocates for engaging various sectors of society, including civil society, the public and private sectors, academia, and youth and women’s organizations. Building upon successful experiences, the EESC calls for the establishment of a structured civil society dialogue, involving companies, trade unions, and civil society organizations working on the ground.

‘’SDGs are still perfectly relevant today. We should continue to work on them together’’, said the co-rapporteur Antje Gerstein.

Additionally, the EESC highlights the importance of societal acceptance by ensuring that the costs and benefits of the transition are fairly distributed. A proactive communication strategy to counter anti-2030 agendas and fake-news is essential. Increased investments and alignment of the SDGs with the European Semester, multilateralism, and the development of strong SDG/Green Deal Diplomacy are also critical.

Policies Ahead: Key Enablers for Achieving the SDGs

The EESC calls for an integrated, comprehensive strategy and a holistic approach to achieving the SDGs, instead of tackling them separately. Clear targets, timelines, and roadmaps are required to clarify the EU’s path to achieving the 17 SDGs.

The EESC suggests:

  • A coordinated plan, such as the Six Transformations approach, which organizes the SDGs into six profound transformations aligned with governmental organization.
  • Education, time policies that address working time among others, urban planning, and the reduction of territorial imbalances between cities and rural areas. Local and regional engagement, involving stakeholders in the SDGs, is critical for localization and effective implementation.
  • strong multi-stakeholder partnerships and science-based pathways are central to EU policymaking.
  • youth and women’s organizations should be empowered to translate the SDGs into policies at various levels.
  • data should be systematically monitored, and Eurostat should include performance data from the European Semester in its SDG database
  • updated and more innovative indicators
  • to gain societal acceptance, it is essential to highlight the link between sustainable development policies and societal well-being.
  • building a convening space for civil society’s involvement in SDG implementation, with long-term political commitment from the Commission.

The EU should lead in promoting a stronger global commitment to the SDGs and SDG/Green Deal Diplomacy. It should support international efforts to finance climate change adaptation and loss and damage costs. EU member states should achieve the target of 0.7% of GINI as Official Development Assistance to promote sustainable economic development in developing countries. To minimize negative international spill-overs, the EU should monitor and curb negative environmental and social spill-overs and include SDG-related mirror clauses in trade agreements. 

Background information

State of Play According to the European Commission

The European Commission has integrated SDGs into its policies and work plans, using a ‘Whole-of-Government approach.’ In July 2023, they reaffirmed their commitment through the EU Voluntary Review. The latest Eurostat report shows moderate progress in most areas since 2015, with significant strides in three specific goals. However, progress has slowed and regressed in some areas since 2020 due to crises like COVID-19, the climate emergency, and the war in Ukraine. Notably, the EU has made progress on climate action (SDG 13), with a 30% reduction in emissions but needs more effort to reach the 55% reduction target by 2030. Progress has been observed in life on land (SDG 15), but further work is needed to reverse land and biodiversity degradation. In partnerships for the goals (SDG 17), progress has been moderately negative. The European Court of Auditors’ report suggests that ambitious EU targets may not be sufficient to reach 2030 targets.

State of Play According to Civil Society Organizations

Civil society organizations paint a more critical picture, considering that some of the data are outdated, the spill-over effects at 3rd countries are not fully taken into account and there are more indicators that need to be onboarded.. The Sustainable Development Report and the UN Secretary General’s report underscore the setbacks caused by these crises globally. Despite geopolitical tensions and weakened multilateralism, it is crucial to recognize the value of the SDGs as a comprehensive and universal roadmap for sustainable socioeconomic prosperity. Civil society reports show that the EU was already off track in achieving the SDGs before the pandemic. While the EU is set to achieve 66% of SDG targets, limited progress exists in 20% of indicators, with regression in 13%. Challenges persist in responsible consumption, sustainable food systems, climate action, and environmental protection. Inequalities have grown in some EU Member States, especially in ‘leave no one behind.’ SDG 17 in Europe is difficult due to inadequate Official Development Assistance (ODA). EU policies like the European Pilar of Social Rights Action Plan and the European Green Deal aren’t well-aligned with the SDGs. Civil society’s involvement in SDG monitoring and implementation in the EU is considered insufficient.