Sustainable Development stands for meeting the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability of futures generations to meet their own needs – in other words, a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. It offers a vision of progress that integrates immediate and longer-term objectives, local and global action, and regards social, economic and environmental issues as inseparable and interdependent components of human progress.
Sustainable development will not be brought about by policies only: it must be taken up by society at large as a principle guiding the many choices each citizen makes every day, as well as the big political and economic decisions that have. This requires profound changes in thinking, in economic and social structures and in consumption and production patterns.
The overall aim of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy is to identify and develop actions to enable the EU to achieve a continuous long-term improvement of quality of life through the creation of sustainable communities able to manage and use resources efficiently, able to tap the ecological and social innovation potential of the economy and in the end able to ensure prosperity, environmental protection and social cohesion.
The strategy sets overall objectives and concrete actions for seven key priority challenges for the coming period until 2010, many of which are predominantly environmental:
- Climate change and clean energy
- Sustainable transport
- Sustainable consumption & production
- Conservation and management of natural resources
- Public Health
- Social inclusion, demography and migration
Global poverty and sustainable development challenges
Education, research and public finance are stressed as important instruments in facilitating the transition to a more sustainable production and consumption patterns. And because monitoring and follow-up are crucial for effective implementation, the renewed strategy contains a strong governance cycle. Every two years (started in 2007) the Commission is to produce a progress report on the implementation of the strategy. This report is to form the basis for discussion at the European Council, which will give guidance to the next steps in implementation.
Already in 1997 sustainable development became a fundamental objective of the EU when it was included in the Treaty of Amsterdam as an overarching objective of EU policies.
At the Gothenburg Summit in June 2001, EU leaders launched the first EU sustainable development strategy based on a proposal from the European Commission. This 2001 strategy was composed of two main parts. The first proposed objectives and policy measures to tackle a number of key unsustainable trends while the second part, arguably more ambitious, called for a new approach to policy-making that ensures the EU's economic, social and environmental policies mutually reinforce each other. The central instrument developed for this purpose was the obligation for the Commission to submit each new major policy proposal to an Impact Assessment.
The EU SDS added a third, environmental dimension to the Lisbon Strategy of economic and social renewal. The two strategies are complementary.
The Gothenburg declaration formed the core of the EU's policies towards sustainable development. But these also encompassed other programmes and commitments, such as the commitments made at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, as well as global pledges to increase official development aid and to take account of the needs of developing countries in international trade.
Despite important achievements in implementing the EU sustainable development strategy, unsustainable trends persist, ranging from climate change to the ageing of societies in developed countries and a widening gap between the rich and the poor in the world. The world surrounding the EU also changed significantly since 2001 with the enlargement of the European Union to 25 Member States, increased instability due to terrorist threats and violence, further globalization and changes in the world economy.
This required a sustainable development strategy with a stronger focus, a clearer division of responsibilities, wider ownership and broader support, a stronger integration of the international dimension and more effective implementation and monitoring.
In July 2009 the Commission adopted the 2009 Review of EU SDS. It underlines that in recent years the EU has mainstreamed sustainable development into a broad range of its policies. In particular, the EU has taken the lead in the fight against climate change and the promotion of a low-carbon economy. At the same time, unsustainable trends persist in many areas and the efforts need to be intensified. The review takes stock of EU policy measures in the areas covered by the EU SDS and launches a reflection on the future of the EU SDS and its relation to the Lisbon strategy.