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We Cannot Forget the Sustainable Development Goals

This week in the European Parliament, we voted overwhelmingly to support a report on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs). 

It’s a vote that was of particular interest to me. I’m a member of the European Parliament’s SDGs Alliance, and as the Greens/EFA group’s representative ( Shadow Rapporteur), I’ve been involved in negotiations around the report’s progression through the European Parliament. 

In those roles, I’ll be travelling to New York in July, as part of a delegation from the European Parliament to the 2022 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, the UN’s annual conference that takes stock of SDGs implementation. 

The SDGs have been in place since 2015, when the international political community gave the green light to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, committing to the 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals, with 169 targets. 

There’s a strong Irish connection. The SDGs were first mooted in 2014, when the UN General Assembly appointed Ireland’s UN Ambassador in New York, David Donoghue, and his Kenyan counterpart  Machiara Kamau, to lead the negotiations on producing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to follow on the Millennium Development Goals. 

The concept was ambitious and the negotiations intense, carried out between world governments. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting David Donoghue and discussing, in depth, the entire process with him. The story is inspiring – how he and Kamau managed to come up with language that was strong and unwavering in its conviction. How they pushed the boundaries and were unapologetic in sticking to their aims and moving forward with impressive aspirations around the future of humankind and the planet. They navigated a set of goals of importance and magnitude through the complex maze that is international political negotiations at the highest levels. The resulting set of Sustainable Development Goals speak for themselves. 

But while the Goals are laudable, implementation is vital. Despite calls from the European Parliament and the Council on the SDGs, the European Commission has not yet adopted a comprehensive strategy to address gaps in SDG implementation at EU level. As we approach the mid-point of Agenda 2030, Europe is on track to meet only 15% of those targets.

The SDGs Implementation Report we voted on this week, assesses the EU’s implementation of the SDGs and makes concrete recommendations for how to achieve them both in the EU and globally. It examines the need for real progress in the areas of governance, monitoring, budgeting & finance, and multilateralism in order to attain the SDGs as a whole.

The Parliament’s SDGs Implementation Report is the Parliament’s tool to hold the EU to account regarding its implementation of the SDGs. Its importance lies in its analysis of the implementation of SDGs in the EU. It includes language on the aim (set out in the 8th Environment Action Programme, legislation I was the Parliament’s lead negotiator on) for the EU to achieve a Wellbeing Economy and to renew the call for Beyond GDP indicators. Sadly, the report concludes, on these and other areas, we have a long way to go. 

With less than 8 years left to achieve the SDGs, and not a single country on track to achieve them, it’s time to take action around the EU and the international community’s implementation of the SDGs. 

Against the backdrop of a world where geopolitical, climate and humanitarian crises compete for resources and policy-makers’ attention, the SDGs have an increasing relevance. The questions now are:  will the SDGs be taken seriously as the only framework for emerging from these crises, and how quickly can we ramp up their implementation? 

In July, when I travel to New York as part of the delegation to the UN, the report will serve as our mandate around revisions of particularly important SDGs, covering  quality education, gender equality, life below water, life on land and, importantly, partnership for the goals.

The SDGs are an important part of my work in the Parliament, but they have coloured and influenced aspects of my life and work for far longer than the few years I’ve spent in politics. As an ecologist and as a lifelong peace and environmental activist, I have fully supported the apirations of the goals since their inception. They’re a blueprint for a sustainable and fair future, living well, within the planetary boundaries. They espouse a global vision of a healthy planet and better quality of life. They represent the overarching priorities we must aim for, if we are to survive and thrive into the future.   

We must leverage and highlight the SDGs in these trying times, as the world is hit with crisis after crisis. Never before has it been more important for us to find ways of living sustainably, and well, on a changing and challenged planet.

The SDGs remain the only international agreement to build a more equitable and resilient world that prospers within planetary boundaries. Nice words about SDG implementation are no good though, if we don’t put those words into practice. On environment, that means increased action on on climate. We need increased ambition and action on biodiversity and on reducing pollution. It means commitment and action around supporting genuine sustainability and countering widespread greenwashing. If we’re to do right by the SDGs, it must be with more than words: it must be with meaningful action every day.

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