At its heart, sustainable development is about justice and equality, writes Udo Bullmann

We need to keep our planet liveable, clean and fair for all to live in, says founding member of MEPs for SDGs
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By Udo Bullmann

Udo Bullmann (DE, S&D) is a founding member of the MEPs for SDGs cross-party group

05 Oct 2021

We must shape a future that is not only ecological but is also just and provides perspective and prosperity. And we must bring this future to both those currently marginalised as well as those left behind.

The idea of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals transcends a one-dimensional view of the world. Rather, it is what we in Brussels describe as ‘holistic’, touching upon the diverse ways of pushing mankind to live within the boundaries of what our ecosystems can sustain.

“While we Europeans have often been pushing the SDG process on paper, what we really need is determination, action and commitment to sustainable development in our internal and external policies”

At the same time, it must create societies that bring people together, providing them with opportunity and creating real socio-economic equality. Six years ago, the 193 countries of the United Nations – including the 27 Member States of the European Union - signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda.

Furthermore - and of great symbolic importance - the EU, represented by the European Commission, was a cosignatory. 

While we Europeans have often been pushing the SDG process on paper, what we really need is determination, action and commitment to sustainable development in our internal and external policies.

Faced with a solid majority in the European Parliament, the Commission has made the SDGs a core element of its work programme. This is evident, for example, in both the European Green Deal and the NextGenerationEU recovery Programme.

The newly agreed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument’s (NDICI) Global Europe fund also aims to support sustainable development across the world. Such programmes show that we are going beyond simply earmarking funding for sustainable development, and putting sustainability and equality at the core of EU policies. 

This shift in perspective now needs to be translated into real-world politics. We must make sure that the ideas behind our new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and the pillars of the Next GenerationEU, are now also used on the ground in Member States. It’s not enough to simply safeguard the status quo, we need to push for a just transition, sustainability, equality along with good living and working conditions within the boundaries of the planet. 

The Commission must now put these principles in practice. When the EU Executive assess Member State’s plans to use the Recovery and Resilience facility, or when they appraise individual projects in the Member States through InvestEU or scrutinise Members States’ budgets, its priorities must be clear.

Whatever creates sustainable growth, whatever delivers real-life benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable is, in essence, more valuable than simply the GDP increase it may provide. The same holds true for the EU’s external engagement. In various recent crises, we have seen that the EU can only be a credible global actor if it can provide a real vision to our partners. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a “Europe First” approach cannot solve our problems; while vaccination rates have been steadily increasing in the EU, the Global South is falling behind. According to the WHO, less than three percent of the African population is fully vaccinated and case numbers are surging, driven by the Delta variant.

By accepting or ignoring global inequality and injustice in access to COVID-19 vaccinations, Europe is losing the trust of the global community and contradicting its own development narrative. Without the Global South catching up, we will not manage to end COVID-19.

If we want to prevent the virus being ever-present for the near future, we must end COVID-19 globally and not give it further opportunities to mutate and spread in different, more aggressive forms. 

“By closing the gap between the richest and the poorest, an improved quality of life is provided to the most vulnerable”

It is clear that COVID-19 was a major setback for the global implementation of the SDGs. Yet again, it dramatically demonstrated the growing global inequalities in health and sanitation.

As highlighted in the 2021 SDG Report, the pandemic is likely to reverse any progress made in reducing income inequality; the progress of vaccination around the world is just another indicator of the crucial importance of SDG 10: Fighting inequalities. Such a fight within and among countries will provide the basis for sustainable development and make implementation of the other goals possible.

As the different goals are interlinked, efforts to reduce inequalities in a society will have positive effects on, for example, poverty, health or sanitation. By closing the gap between the richest and the poorest, an improved quality of life is provided to the most vulnerable. 

This interconnection of different policy areas, external and internal, is the basis of the MEPs for SDGs cross-party group. In particular, we must ensure that the implementation of SDG principles is considered in EU legislation across all policy areas.

The consensus we have on the importance of the SDG process and its central role in European and international global politics must now also be demonstrated in real world action. The European Parliament should collaborate and fight for sustainable equality with all means available. 

Read the most recent articles written by Udo Bullmann - Juncker plan is a chance for growth and employment

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