The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the “compass” that can lead the EU out of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen told a virtual panel in Brussels on Tuesday (April 21).
“We need to rethink the COVID recovery as an SDGs recovery”, said Jutta Urpilainen during the online discussion on “Why the UN Sustainable Development Goals matter more than ever” organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC). “The SDGs lie at the heart of our policymaking both internally and externally (…) They are the substance of our daily work”, she said.
Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians, who is an SDG Advocate and who also participated in the panel, said the SDGs are a toolbox for building back better for the future.
“(The SDGs) present us with a coherent picture of the future we are trying to achieve. For this, they need to be fully embraced by all stakeholders”, Her Majesty Queen Mathilde said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has unleashed an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis, is threatening progress towards achieving the SDGs.
“This year will be the first time since the adoption of the SDGs that we will see a decline overall in the world average on the SDG index”, Guillaume Lafortune, Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) Paris bureau, told the panel. The world’s most vulnerable groups and countries will be hit hardest by the pandemic, with millions plunged into poverty and unemployment.
The implementation of the SDGs will help prevent future crises, Mr Lafortune added. He commended EU priorities such as the European Green Deal, an action plan from the European Commission which commits the EU to becoming climate-neutral by 2050. Certain EU initiatives are even “ahead of the game”, such as a discussion over the carbon border adjustment mechanism, which would put a carbon price on imports of certain goods from outside the EU.
“The rest of the world is looking at the EU and what it can bring to table”, Mr Lafortune said.
A multilateral approach
Solidarity is key to achieving the 2030 Agenda, which commits to achieving sustainable development by 2030 worldwide.
“Agenda 2030 is not only an agenda for governments, it is an agenda for all of society”, said Commissioner Urpilainen.
Such solidarity has already been demonstrated through the COVAX mechanism, which delivers vaccines worldwide. Team Europe –which combines resources from the EU, its Member States, and EU financial institutions – has announced over €2.2 billion for the COVAX Facility.
The rollout of vaccines and major climate milestones throughout 2021, including the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), offer reasons to be hopeful in achieving the SDGs. For Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians “this crisis offers a once in a generation opportunity to fundamentally rethink our economies and societies (…) This opportunity should not be missed”, she concluded.