Why the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is more meaningful and powerful than ever

We have the opportunity to build a new postpandemic world, one that is more inclusive, green and sustainable than today, writes Jutta Urpilainen.
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By Jutta Urpilainen

19 Jun 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. Each and every one of us has been affected. Many have been sick. Many are missing out on paycheques or struggling to put food on our tables.

And tragically, too many have lost someone very dear to them. Like an x-ray, the health crisis - and the economic fallout that has followed weeks of lockdown - has revealed the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Inequality, the 21st century plague, hangs over us more prominently than ever.


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Many of our partner countries around the world were already - pre- COVID-19 - disproportionately affected by massive challenges like the climate emergency, the biodiversity crisis and the degradation of our ecosystem, the digital divide and unequal social and economic opportunities.

COVID-19 has shone a harsher light on these difficult realities, compounding existing inequalities. Take, for example, how the access to clean water and sanitation, precious commodities in the battle against viruses, are still missing for more than two billion people.

“It is striking that, in this changed context, and at this critical time, the 2030 sustainable development Agenda is more meaningful and powerful than ever”

International cooperation, partnerships and enhanced multilateralism will be our best defence as we come to terms with Coronavirus and its aftermath. Helping our partners cope with the fallout of the pandemic is not just the right thing to do.

It is also in Europe’s best interest, because stronger partners make a stronger Europe. The EU and its Member States, acting as “Team Europe”, have so far secured almost €36bn to help our partners deal with the immediate health crisis, its economic fallout and social consequences.

The scale of the pandemic required a collective, coordinated response between Brussels and Member States. Team Europe swiftly answered this call, and contributions to the global response have continued to grow since March.

Resources are financing short-, medium- and long-term actions, tailored to the different needs of our partners.

From helping partners in Africa to test for the virus and monitor its spread, to improving hygiene, water and sanitation in Central America, and supporting refugees and migrants in Asia, Team Europe’s mission is to leave no one behind.

Over the course of the past few months, many people have looked inwards and outwards with renewed awareness of what is really important in life, expressing a need and a desire for sustainable change in the way we relate to each other and the planet.

Our unsustainable relationship with the environment, the reason why more zoonotic and infectious diseases have emerged in recent years, needs to change.

We also have a duty, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen put it, to turn our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis from challenge to opportunity.

It is precisely with this in mind that the Commission’s strategic priorities, including for the Green Deal and a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, are all the more important for charting our course to a green recovery and investing in a sustainable future.

However, if we are to save the planet and prepare for the future, we will not succeed through the EU working on its own, unilaterally. Strength comes from multilateralism.

“Over the course of the past few months, many people have looked inwards and outwards with renewed awareness of what is really important in life, expressing a need and a desire for sustainable change in the way we relate to each other and the planet”

We must use all the power of our international partnerships, with the fight against inequalities and the green and digital transitions as our guiding compass, to boost jobs and growth, make our societies and environment more resilient and inclusive.

For the European Union, a crucial partnership will be with our closest neighbour, twin continent and natural partner: Africa. Just two days after we adopted our proposal ‘Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa’, the COVID-19 outbreak became a global pandemic.

And, although much has changed in just a few months, the pandemic has brought an increased sense of urgency to our African agenda. Priorities put forward in the Communication remain valid.

New opportunities abound for Africa’s youth to transform their continent – politically, economically and socially.

Drumming up investment and harnessing the potential of the green and digital transitions for all while boosting human development will support Africa’s youth in building the Africa of tomorrow.

But it will also support both our continents’ COVID-19 recovery, prepare for future threats and invest in a more sustainable future. In the run-up to the EU-AU Summit later this year, we are committed to consulting broadly and to come up with an inclusive, joined-up approach.

It is striking that, in this changed context, and at this critical time, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is more meaningful and powerful than ever.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we have a shared responsibility to see this crisis through together, and to “build back better”, in the words of UN Secretary General António Gutteres.

Humanity in its entirety has been affected by COVID-19. So, humanity in its entirety must get behind the Sustainable Development Goals, to build a post-pandemic world that is more inclusive, green and sustainable than the one we know today.

There is no going back to the same. Together, we are now building bridges to the new, to the future.

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