Back in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted with the objective of reducing poverty and improving the lives of the world's poorest people by 2015. They included eight goals, such as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality and reducing child mortality. These goals were a landmark effort by the United Nations to tackle global issues and move towards a sustainable future.
Today, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, build on the progress made by the MDGs and aim to address a broader range of global challenges, including environmental sustainability, economic growth, and social inclusion. The SDGs include 17 goals, such as ending poverty in all its forms, achieving gender equality, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, and taking urgent action to combat climate change by 2030.
While the MDGs focused mainly on developing countries, the SDGs apply to all countries and recognize that global challenges require collective action from all nations. The SDGs also emphasize the importance of partnerships and collaboration among stakeholders to achieve long-term environmental, societal and economic prosperity.
Progress and challenges in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
Goals are ambitious, but they are also achievable. And their importance cannot be overstated.
It was until 2020 that progress was being made in some critical areas, and that some favorable trends were evident. For example, extreme poverty declined considerably from 10% in 2015 to 8.6% in 2018, the under-5 mortality rate fell by 49% between 2000 and 2017, and access to improved water sources increased to 91% of the global population, just to name a few examples.
These achievements demonstrate that progress towards a sustainable future is possible with collective efforts and investment from all stakeholders including governments and society.
However, the achievement of the goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is under threat as the world confronts a series of interconnected global crises and conflicts. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the war in Ukraine, is worsening food, energy, humanitarian, and refugee crises, all while the world faces a full-blown climate emergency.
Each of these situations, and their complex interactions, impact all of the Goals, creating spin-off crises in food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security.
A clear example of how the current global situation is negatively impacting the progress towards a sustainable future are the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted essential health services in 91% of the countries, decreased the global life expectancy and increased the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. Not to mention that deaths due to tuberculosis rose for the first time since 2005.
Another example is the new record achieved in fossil fuel emissions in 2021. With the phasing out of COVID-related restrictions, demand for coal, oil and gas increased. Consequently, energy-related CO2 emissions for 2021 rose by 6%, reaching their highest level ever and completely wiping out the pandemic-related reduction seen in 2020.
Putting the world on track to sustainability
Achieving the SDGs demands a multifaceted strategy involving a range of stakeholders, such as governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals. Key steps to advance this goal include demonstrating political leadership and commitment, as well as investing in sustainable practices.
And it is this last point that could probably have the biggest impact in the short term. Investment in sustainable development is critical and governments and the private sector must work together to mobilize resources, create financing models, and promote innovation to reduce risks and enhance resilience. Urgent funding is needed to unlock opportunities and address the funding gap towards building a sustainable future
Public funding is an essential source of finance for many developing countries working towards SDG achievement. It can help fund crucial infrastructure, such as health systems and schools, and support programs that promote sustainable development, such as renewable energy and sustainable agriculture.
But the private sector is also crucial for achieving the SDGs. Not only the private sector investment can help leverage additional funding, stimulate economic growth, and create new job opportunities, particularly in low-income countries but also innovation projects promoted by this sector can help accelerate the achievement of the goals. As an example, the development of new technologies in the field of renewable energy can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. In the same way, development of precision agriculture technologies can help farmers improve crop yields while reducing water usage and environmental impact or new mobile banking and payment systems can help people in rural areas access financial services and participate in the global economy.
European funds for a sustainable future
The EU provides grants through various programs, such as Horizon Europe, the European Regional Development Fund, and the European Social Fund, among others. These grants aim to support research and innovation, infrastructure development, and social and economic cohesion in the EU member states and beyond.
One of the key ways in which European grants contribute to the SDGs is by introducing the EU Missions. This is a new way to bring concrete solutions to some of the greatest challenges. They have ambitious goals well aligned with the SDGs, aiming to deliver concrete results by 2030. For the period 2021-2027 these missions are:
- Adaptation to Climate Change: support at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030
- Cancer: working with Europe's Beating Cancer Plan to improve the lives of more than 3 million people by 2030 through prevention, cure and solutions to live longer and better
- Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030
- 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030
- A Soil Deal for Europe: 100 living labs and lighthouses to lead the transition towards healthy soils by 2030
Furthermore, European grants contribute to achieving the SDGs by promoting global partnerships and cooperation. Grants are provided to support international cooperation and partnerships between EU member states and developing countries, which helps to promote sustainable development and reduce poverty and inequality.
European programs supporting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
There are several European programs that provide funding to support the SDGs and contribute to their achievement. The most relevant ones are:
- Horizon Europe: Horizon Europe is the European Union's main research and innovation program for the period 2021-2027, with a budget of €95.5 billion. Horizon Europe supports research and innovation in a wide range of areas, including health, climate change, energy, and digital transformation. The program supports the SDGs by promoting research and innovation that addresses global challenges and contributes to sustainable development. For example, Horizon Europe supports research in areas such as renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, which are all critical to achieving the SDGs.
- European Regional Development Fund (ERDF): The ERDF is a European Union fund that supports economic development and social cohesion in the regions of the EU. The fund, with a budget of €392 billion, provides support for infrastructure development, innovation, and the transition to a low-carbon economy. The ERDF supports the SDGs by promoting sustainable economic growth, reducing regional inequalities, and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. For example, the fund supports projects that promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transport, which contribute to SDG7 and SDG 9.
- European Social Fund Plus (ESF+): The ESF is a European Union fund that supports employment and social inclusion in the EU. The fund, with a budget of €99.3 billion, provides support for education and training, employment services, and social services. The ESF supports the SDGs and a sustainable future by promoting social inclusion, reducing poverty and inequality, and improving access to education and training. For example, the fund supports projects that provide training and education for disadvantaged groups, such as refugees and migrants, which contribute to SDG 4 and SDG 10.
- Life Programme: The Life Programme is a European Union program that supports environmental and climate action in the EU. The program, with a budget of €5.43 billion, provides funding for projects that support the conservation of nature and biodiversity, the transition to a circular economy, and the mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The Life Programme supports the SDGs by promoting environmental protection, sustainable consumption and production, and climate action. For example, the program supports projects that promote the use of renewable energy, reduce waste and pollution, and conserve biodiversity, which contribute to SDG 12, SDG 13 and SDG 15.
- European Development Fund (EDF): The EDF is a European Union fund that supports development cooperation with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. The fund provides support for sustainable development, trade, and regional integration. The EDF supports the SDGs by promoting sustainable development in developing countries, reducing poverty and inequality, and promoting global partnerships. For example, the fund supports projects that promote sustainable agriculture, access to clean water and sanitation, and renewable energy, which contribute to several SDGs, including SDG 1 - No Poverty, SDG 2 - Zero Hunger, and SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy.
In conclusion, European programs provide significant funding to support the Sustainable Development Goals, contributing to a sustainable future. These programs support sustainable economic growth, social inclusion, sustainable infrastructure development, environmental protection, and global partnerships and cooperation, which are all critical to achieving the SDGs. But these programmes are just a few examples of the many European programs that support sustainable development and contribute to the SDGs.