Strengthening the EU’s Leadership on the SDGs – Civil Society and Expert Contributions for the UN HLPF and Beyond

SDSN and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) co-organized a workshop in Brussels, Belgium on EU’s leadership role in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

On April 4th, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted a joint hybrid workshop in Brussels, Belgium. With over 600 participants, including panelists from the European Parliament, European Commission, current and incoming Council presidencies, civil society organizations, scientific institutions, and international organizations, the workshop focused on EU leadership on implementing the 2030 Agenda and achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all nations in 2015. Participants discussed major priorities for accelerating SDG progress in the EU and around the world and exchanged views on how to strengthen structured engagement with civil society over the next seven years. In preparation for the 2023 UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) and the EU’s first voluntary review, the workshop also showcased systemic solutions developed by knowledge institutions in major European projects and delved into European SDG diplomacy and ways to curb negative international spillovers.

Overall, seven major priorities were identified to strengthen EU’s internal and global leadership on the SDGs and to strengthen structured engagement with civil society in implementing the SDGs. These priorities should be high on the EU agenda ahead, at and after the 2023 UN HLPF:

  1. Implement the SDG Stimulus to Restore and Accelerate SDG Progress Globally 

The SDGs are largely an investment agenda into human capital (health, education, social protection) and physical infrastructure (electrification, clean energy, digital infrastructure). Yet, low-income countries (LICs) and lower middle-income countries (LMICs) face major fiscal space issues and lack access to international capital to invest in the SDGs. The UN Secretary-General called for an SDG Stimulus in September 2022 at the opening of the UN General Assembly. The need for substantially higher funding for the SDGs has been widely documented, by the SDSN, the IMF, and others.  Financing gaps of $1-4 trillion per year (1-4% of world output) block the achievement of the SDGs, Paris Agreement, Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework, and other global goals in the developing world. The EU must lead global efforts to increase financial flows for sustainable development and access to capital in poorer countries, notably via increased lending capacity of Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and other reforms of the Global Financial Architecture.

  1. Address the Environmental and Social “tipping points” along with the Economic Stimulus

Major science-based SDG breakthroughs in the EU, including energy decarbonization and major transformations of food & land systems, require public support. Political fragmentation, rising inflation and increased geopolitical tensions must be addressed under the “Leave-No-One-Behind” (LNOB) principle of the SDGs to avoid hitting negative “social tipping points” (a massive deterioration of social outcomes and increased resistance to change). In this regard, the adoption of a European and Green and Social Deal 2.0 by the incoming European Commission is being put forward by many civil society organizations and European stakeholders. The LNOB Index published in the 2022 Europe Sustainable Development Report shows that multiple crises have impacted particularly vulnerable groups and increased poverty in some European countries. The effective functioning of European democracies and institutions, which are at the heart of the sustainable development transition, depend on the capacity of governments to provide equal opportunities, protect the most vulnerable, and boost education and skills for all.

  1. Curb EU’s Negative International Spillovers 

EU’s consumption is associated with significant negative environmental and social spillovers in the world. The EU must continue its efforts to monitor and curb negative international spillovers embodied in unsustainable supply chains, notably by collaborating on transition pathways with partner countries. 

  1. Facilitate Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue through Civil Society and Youth Structured Involvement on the 2030 Agenda

Under the Juncker Commission, a multi-stakeholder platform was set up to enable structured engagement with civil society, youth organizations, business community, trade unions and scientists on SDG policies and monitoring. The platform’s mandate was not renewed by the von der Leyen Commission, leaving a void for constructive dialogue between those stakeholders on SDG implementation. The comprehensive, goal-based and time-bound vision for sustainable development that 2030 Agenda and SDGs provide, supported by strong multi-stakeholder partnerships and science-based pathways, should remain at the heart of European policy making. The EU needs to invest in facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogue on the 2030 Agenda to promote joint learning and accountability. Building on the fruitful contributions of the EESC to the EU VR process, the EESC is ready to provide a convening space for regular and structured engagement of civil society organizations and networks, including youth, by the EU institutions on SDG implementation over the next seven years. This space can also serve as a platform to brainstorm on the post-2030 Agenda. 

  1. Adopt a Strategic Approach to SDG Implementation 

While the European Green Deal effectively covers the climate and biodiversity dimensions of the SDGs, it falls short on addressing the social aspects as well as the universal and indivisible nature of the 2030 Agenda. The EU needs an integrated, comprehensive strategy to achieve the SDGs at the European and global level. To reduce the complexity of its sustainable development policies and engage with citizens and scientists effectively, the EU must adopt a strategic, holistic approach rather than segmenting the goals and addressing them separately. 

  1. Lead Multilateral SDG / Green Deal Diplomacy

The EU played an important leading up to the adoption of the SDGs and should now play a leading role in promoting stronger SDG commitments and actions at the halfway mark to 2030. The EU should lead SDG/Green Deal Diplomacy at the 2023 SDG Summit, COP28 and 2024 Summit of the Future. 

  1. Invest in Science-Based Pathways and Local Solutions Programs

Despite geopolitical and multiple short-term crises, the EU should not lose sight of the importance of long-term transformations, notably of its energy and food & land system and should continue to invest in research and development (R&D), innovation and science for sustainable development. Long-term funding should be secured to empower and integrate science-based pathways into ambitious policies and implementation mechanisms.

To learn more, view the conference presentations, recordings, and photographs.

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