Over the years, the EU has become a frontrunner in sustainability, with the highest social and environmental standards, and championing the Paris Climate Agreement and innovative concepts like the circular economy. The Juncker Commission has mainstreamed sustainable development priorities across its policies since the start of its mandate.
However, like the rest of the world, the EU faces complex, changing and pressing challenges, in particular related to its ecological debt and climate change, demographic change, migration, inequality, economic and social convergence, and pressure on public finances. Moreover, rising temptations of isolationism and nationalism are a sign that too many Europeans do not feel protected enough in this changing world. The undeniable facts should not instil us with fear, but inspire us to act instead.
Today's Reflection Paper focuses on the key policy foundations for the sustainability transition, which include moving from linear to circular economy, correcting the imbalances in our food system, future-proofing our energy, buildings and mobility, and making sure that this transition is fair, leaving no one and no place behind. The Paper also concentrates on the horizontal enablers, which need to underpin the sustainability transition, including education, science, technology, research, innovation and digitisation; finance, pricing, taxation and competition; responsible business conduct, corporate social responsibility and new business models; open and rules-based trade; governance and policy coherence at all levels. The Paper ends by emphasising the importance of blazing the trail for the sustainability transition globally as our policies will only have a limited impact on the planet if others pursue opposing policies.
The Paper puts forward three scenarios to stimulate the discussion on how to follow up on the Sustainable Development Goals within the EU. These scenarios are illustrative: they aim to offer different ideas and spur debate and thinking. The eventual outcome would likely be a combination of certain elements from each. The three scenarios are:
- An overarching EU SDGs strategy guiding the actions of the EU and its Member States;
- A continued mainstreaming of the SDGs in all relevant EU policies by the Commission, but not enforcing Member States' action;
- An enhanced focus on external action while consolidating current sustainability ambition at EU level.