Building an environmental, economic, socially just future: The EU perspective on Sustainable Development Goals


New York -- Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Speech at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

In 2015, we have a historic opportunity to change the world. To set global development on what the UN Secretary General called 'The Road to Dignity': a more inclusive path, which promotes sustainable development, and which protects people and the planet.

This year we have 3 conferences in under a few months: on financing for development in Addis Ababa, on the Sustainable Development Goals in New York, and on Climate Change in Paris.

This is an unprecedented opportunity. Three events but one shared goal. And let's remember that we are building on our successes.

The concept of sustainability is based on three pillars; environmental, yes, but also economic and social. These pillars are not stand alone but are interconnected.

They represent the environmental right to clean water; the social right to be educated; and the economic right to be lifted out of poverty.

And we have made considerable progress.

If we think of a young girl aged 10 in the developing world, she now has a greater chance that her day will be more about the normal worries of a schoolgirl, not the worries of someone who has to carry water five kilometres for her family.

She will more likely take for granted the fact that the water she drinks is clean.

When she reads her schoolbooks at night, she will take for granted the electric light above her head.

There is no better example of the three pillars of sustainability. But this is not just about the three pillars. It is also about the interconnection between them.

That little girl is going to school because she no longer has to walk 5 kilometres to get clean water. She can now afford to go to school because her family has been lifted out of poverty.

So our response now, as governments, as international institutions, as civil society and as business has to be to work on those pillars, as well as on the policy interconnections between them.

With the post-2015 agenda, we are talking about moving beyond business as usual – we are not simply aiming at 'reducing poverty', or 'promoting environmental management'.

Instead, at the September Summit, global leaders are asked to be more ambitious and commit to fully eradicating poverty in all its forms, and to achieve inclusive and sustainable development for present and future generations.

This is a bold and truly transformative ambition, and with it comes a new responsibility for implementation right up to 2030.

One of the major shifts of the Post-2015 agenda is its universality. All countries will have the responsibility to achieve the goals and targets domestically and to contribute to achieving them globally. This shared responsibility is fundamental.

But national ownership and leadership is equally vital for implementation. Governments and international organisations, such as the UN, have a particular role here.

They must overcome the silo-approach that often undermines efforts to grapple with problems that are by their nature highly complex and multi-faceted. We cannot make real progress without a shift towards much greater policy integration and coherence at all levels. What we especially need is a deeper understanding of the way that poverty and the three dimensions of sustainable development are all intertwined.

Sometimes the best way to protect one from the effects of climate change for instance is through protecting or restoring ecosystems. I have said many times that we need nature, but nature does not need us. We need to learn, or more accurately relearn as our ancestors did, how to 'work with nature'.

It is better that we do this by choice rather than compulsion!

Ecosystems and natural resources can play a buffer role. Using nature to protecting populations from sea rise or storms, while delivering many other services such as food, clean water or recreation makes sense.

UN agencies and programmes, and national governments, all have a joint challenge to show that their institutional set up is ready for the challenge of tackling all the facets of sustainable development. To show that we are able, in short, to grab the win-win potential of addressing economic, social and environmental issues coherently

This is also a challenge for the EU, and one which we are ready to take on through our external action. The EU's development policy can play a key role in supporting this change, as can our trade policy, to give just 2 examples. But our internal policies and actions also have a role to play. We are already looking at how to ensure policy coherence between the SDGs and the EU’s sustainable growth, jobs and investments agenda, and indeed how they can contribute to one another. We are working, for example, on how to foster sustainable consumption and production through recycling more, better designing products and moving towards a more circular economy, where the usual 'take , make and dispose' is replaced by 're use, use, and recycle'. We are looking at how to improve Ocean governance in the EU and globally to ensure the sustainable management of our common resources.

The SDGs are at the core of the post-2015 agenda and form the foundation on which all the other elements of the outcome are built. They should be viewed – and implemented - as an integrated whole. Cherry picking one goal or the other is not going to deliver results which match our ambition.

The SDGs can only have a real impact if they are recognised and understood by stakeholders and the public generally. Clear communication, presenting the full agenda in a concise, convincing manner, will be paramount and it is therefore crucial that the Declaration conveys compellingly the message of an integrated, transformative and universal agenda, reflecting all three dimensions of sustainable development in a balanced way.

Transparency and a solid monitoring, accountability and review framework will be crucial to assess progress, ensure effective implementation at all levels, and accountability towards our citizens. We believe there should be one overarching framework, covering all aspects of the SDGs as well as all means of implementation in a comprehensive fashion.

And ladies and gentleman, this where we, in the High-level Political Forum come in. Other fora already exist to measure in detail progress against different components of the agenda.

But it is the very unique role of the HLPF to bring the three dimensions of sustainable development together, to review progress and keep implementation on track. Very importantly, it is also up to us sustain political commitment to this new agenda by engaging ministers and Heads of State.

I want to close by telling you a story that really moved me. Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to share a platform in the European Parliament with Amina Mohammed. When I talked about the little schoolgirl I was making a general point. When it came to Amina's turn to speak, the first thing she said was that she was that little girl.

Amina's reaction and more importantly her journey to the point where she now makes such a valuable contribution, speaks more eloquently that anything I could say to why we need to double our efforts to give opportunities to the girls and boys who have hopes and dreams of making a similar contribution.

Thank you.

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