'Wake-up call': Europe off track on all Sustainable Development Goals, report warns

Map of Europe with sustainable development goals behind
koya979 / United Nations

Every country in Europe is failing against global sustainability targets, a stark United Nations-backed assessment has warned this week, sparking calls for EU political leaders to urgently draw up an ambitious plans to address climate change, pollution, biodiversity and overconsumption across the bloc.

The independent qualitative report, which assesses the progress of the EU towards the U.N.'s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), highlights how while Europe leads globally on the sustainability agenda, every nation on the continent still remains off-track against all 17 SDGs.

The greatest challenges Europe faces are the SDGs related to climate change, biodiversity and the circular economy, progress towards which could all be further undermined without action to improve living standards across nations and borders, the report states.

Drawn up by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SSDN), it ranks Nordic countries including Denmark, Sweden and Finland as the closest to achieving the SDGs.

Yet even these countries will struggle to hit the 2030 targets at the current rate, and nations in Southern and Eastern Europe are performing even more poorly, the report notes.

Further compounding the problem, it points out the EU also produces "large negative spillovers" which are impeding the ability of other countries around the world to meet the SDGs. The largest impacts on other countries are caused by unsustainable demand for agricultural, forest and fishery products, it explains.

European countries therefore need to not only focus on their internal sustainability priorities, but also improve their climate diplomacy and development cooperation, as well as strengthening policy coherence to address those negative spillovers.

Céline Charveriat, IEEP's executive director, said the report's findings should be a "wake-up call for the continent's policymakers" and called on them to establish a "Green Deal" to help address climate change, pollution, biodiversity and overconsumption.

"By creating a new, inclusive low carbon circular industry and agriculture, Europe can show the world that it is possible to preserve economic prosperity, while at the same time reducing inequalities and protecting the natural resources that we all depend on for our health and nutrition," she added.

The report argues that European countries already have the necessary frameworks in place to achieve the 17 SDGs, and that the new EU Commission immediately should look to align the Brussel's budget, investment strategies and regulatory governance with the SDGs when it takes over in December.

Specifically, it recommends a European Green Deal that sets its sights on decarbonizing the energy system by 2050, strengthens the circular economy with reductions in waste and greater resource efficiency, and promotes sustainable land-use and food systems.

The commission also should increase both public and private investment in sustainable infrastructure such as power and transport, as well as in education and skills — particularly for STEM jobs in sustainable technology innovation, the report argues.

Guido Schmidt-Traub, SDSN executive director, said it was crucial the EU lead internally and internationally on implementing the SDGs.

"Our report outlines how this ambition can be turned into reality using existing tools and better coordination of member states' policies across the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development," he said.