Experts discuss the Need for a Stronger EU Leadership to Advance on the SDGs

In preparation of the 4th edition of the Europe Sustainable Development Report, SDSN and the EESC organized a workshop to discuss the new EU priorities to achieve the SDGs in a context of multiple crises.

©EU - No pictures were taken during the workshop. This is an illustrative example of a meeting room at the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, Belgium

The workshop, organized by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), preceded the release of the 4th edition of the Europe Sustainable Development Report (ESDR). It commenced with an update from European Institutions about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the EU, the Voluntary Review process, and was followed by panel discussions on the EU international leadership on the SDGs and on transforming the EU’s energy, food & land and urban systems. In the last part of the workshop, the SDSN presented preliminary findings of the ESDR 2022, followed by an open discussion with representatives from institutions and civil society organizations.

Welcome and Introduction

Peter Schmidt, President of the EESC NAT Section, opened the floor by remarking that the ESDR report was to be released during an important moment for the civil society, including the EU Voluntary Review (EU VR). He also highlighted that the joint workshop and the SDSN’s report offer an opportunity to contribute to the 2023 High Level Political Forum.

Session 1: Update from European Institutions about SDGs in the EU and VNR Process

Sandra Parthie, EESC Member at the SOC and INT Section, highlighted that the civil society is ready and capable to give substantive contributions on the role of EU policies in the achievement of SDGs.

Vesa Terävä, Head of Unit at the European Commission, emphasized the commitment of the Commission to implementing the 2030 agenda, both through internal and external action. He also discussed the monitoring efforts made by the EU, such as the production of the Eurostat report. Lastly, he discussed the role of the EU VR as an opportunity to reaffirm the EU’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda.

Anna Pasková, Chair of the Working Party on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under the Czech EU Presidency, praised the work of the SDSN and mentioned its synergies with the EU VR. She informed that the Working Party had organized a formal exchange of views with the civil society and the European Parliament, and that it would organize further discussions in November 2022 with representatives from the EU regions and the EESC.

Session 2: Priorities for Transforming the EU to Achieve the SDGs in a Context of Multiple Crises and Uncertainties

Part 1: The EU’s International Leadership on the SDGs

Guillaume Lafortune, VP and Head of Paris office at the SDSN, emphasized the need for strong EU leadership on the SDGs. He highlighted the value added of the ESDR and its complementary role to the excellent work presented in Eurostat reports, given the ESDR’s use of targets and non-official statistics.

Adolf Kloke-Lesch, Co-Chair of SDSN Europe, expressed that peace cannot be assured through ‘defence-against’ thinking, but rather through ‘cooperation for’ a common goal, and that the SDGs have a crucial role in today’s context. Consequently, he emphasized the need to review and update the 2016 Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy. He also highlighted the importance of European cooperation within G7 and G20 and underlined the need to agree on the future steps.

Elizabeth Hege, Senior Research Fellow at IDDRI, discussed the EU’s external action, highlighting that the EU’s Green Deal and Global Gateway seem to be sending confusing signals to other countries. She emphasized the need for EU leadership during SDG discussions in 2023 and for scaled up financing for developing countries.

Senida Messi, former Deputy Prime Minister of Albania, discussed the role of the High-Level Expert Group on scaling-up sustainable finance for low-income countries and lower middle-income countries Messi also emphasized the partnership between the EU and the Western Balkans as key to overcoming the current energy crisis.

Part 2: Transforming the EU’s Energy, Food & Land and Urban Systems for People and Planet

 Phoebe Kondouri, Co-chair of SDSN Europe, discussed the findings of the SDSN’s Senior Working Group’s report on ”Financing the Transformations for the Joint Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the European Green Deal.” She emphasized the challenge of social cohesion in Europe, evident in budget allocations included in national recovery and resilience plans. She also remarked that the current challenging geopolitical situation should be used to focus on clean energy.


Angelo Riccarboni, Chair of SDSN Mediterranean and Co-Chair of SDSN Europe, discussed the need for concerted action and holistic approach to address the problems of the food systems in Europe, particularly food affordability. He stressed the need to put farmers at the center of attention to ensure their profitability. He also drew attention to the value of innovation and the need to provide innovation support for farmers and SMEs during the transition phase.

Stefano Marta, Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, OECD, discussed the role of cities and regions in the implementation of the SDGs. He remarked that cities are not on track to achieve the SDGs in OECD countries, however, the goals can be a useful tool for policy making at local level.

Session 3: 2022 Europe SDG Index and Dashboards: Preliminary Findings

Guillaume Lafortune, Grayson Fuller and Leslie Bermont Díaz, SDSN, presented the preliminary findings of the 2022 Europe SDG Index and Dashboards. The report will be launched on 9 December 2022 in Berlin. This edition will contribute to the EU VR as the SDSN invited 10 experts from the civil society to provide direct contributions to the report. The key results indicate that multiple crisis are a major setback for the SDGs. The progress on the SDGs has been stagnating since 2019 and the drivers for this stagnation include increase in severely deprived people (SDG1) and drop in life expectancy (SDG3).

The speakers also highlighted five major challenges:

  • impact that the crisis have and will continue to have on the Leave No One Behind (LNOB) indicators;
  • environmental goals;
  • spillovers;
  • goals with more convergence: SDG9 and 17;
  • very slow progress.

In terms of SDG progress, overall, 2/3 of the indicators are achieved or on track, however, there are disparities across countries and within countries. The SDSN also indicated the lack of decoupling between economic growth and reduction in GHG emissions at the EU level, primarily due to no signs of decoupling at the consumption side.  

Open Discussion

Comments from the floor highlighted the lack of coherence and credibility of the EU implementation of the SDGs. Insufficient financing and spillover effects were extensively discussed. The participants emphasized the need to look at the external dimension of the European Green Deal and its consistency with trade agreements. Further comments included the need for social cohesion and narrative-building to make the society view the SDGs as a social project. The workshop concluded with discussions on the need to support other countries to advance on the SDGs, the role of social media in educating people, and the contribution of civil society to the SDGs. 

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