No time to lose: REC hosts Regional Consultation on SDGs

Keynote highlights from the Regional Consultation on the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development in Central and Eastern Europe

April 21, 2016

Breath-taking in scope and ambition and adopted by world leaders in September 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030) officially came into force on January 1, 2016. Countries and regions around the world are now developing their own strategies for successful implementation of the SDGs. In considering the approach of Central and Eastern Europe, the European Commission (EC) and its European Political Strategy Centre encouraged the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) to facilitate a regional multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss priorities and actions for turning these global goals and targets into strategies, policies and standards of regional dimension.

The REC, in pursuit of its mandate from the Signatories of the Charter of the REC to assist the post-2015 global transformation process in the region, organised the "Regional Consultation on the Implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development in Central and Eastern Europe", which was held on April 11-12, 2016. The event brought together high-level and key experts in the field of sustainable development, as well as representatives from academia, business, civil society and government from several countries in Central and South Eastern Europe, including EU member states and EU non-member states.

The objectives of the regional consultation were to raise stakeholder awareness of Agenda 2030, to facilitate discussion about implementation of the SDGs in light of national and sub-national development strategies, to identify modalities of implementation, to draw conclusions from recent socio-economic and political transformations in the CEE region, and to submit conclusions drawn from the regional consultation to the EC and its European Political Strategy Centre.

Day One: Discussing the status quo

Marta Szigeti Bonifert

Marta Szigeti Bonifert, Executive Director of the REC, started the meeting by welcoming participants and introducing the REC, highlighting the international organisation's previous efforts and future commitments to 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The afternoon concluded with three keynote addresses, followed by an open discussion chaired by Janos Zlinszky, Director of the Sustainable Development Academy, REC. The keynote speakers were: H.E. Csaba Korosi, Office of the President of Hungary and previously Co-Chair of the UN Open Working Group for SDGs; Guido Schmidt-Traub, Executive Director, Sustainable Development Solutions Network; and Karl-Friedrich Falkenberg, Senior Adviser for Sustainable Development, EPSC, European Commission.

H.E. Csaba Korosi

In his opening presentation, H.E. Csaba Korosi emphasised the need to change the development trajectory towards sustainability in a world characterised by humans living beyond their means. With problems such as population growth, water stress and soil degradation looming on the immediate horizon, Korosi insisted that a continued business-as-usual approach will carry extremely high costs for humanity. He welcomed Agenda 2030 as a "new vision that encompasses long-term processes", but highlighted the need for strong commitment from governments, as well as the need to revisit perceptions of economic growth and the liberal free market, in order to make a paradigm shift in the development process. Mentioning that the transformation processes is not a "zero-sum game", Korosi pointed to strategic action plans and social contracts that take intergenerational equity into consideration, and urged the importance of overcoming a 'silo' mentality in favour of taking a more innovative, integrated approach towards sustainability.

Guido Schmidt-Traub

Guido Schmidt-Traub highlighted the pragmatic aspects of Agenda 2030 to blunt any scepticism about its broad implementation, while also warning of the grave dangers of inaction. Schmidt-Traub acknowledged the importance of understanding how the goals need to be integrated in the face of complex global challenges. Citing an initial need for unprecedented government and stakeholder mobilisation, new sets of UN indicators and low-emission development strategies, he listed several initial actions that need to be taken to make the agenda a reality, namely: demonstrating that SDGs are a useful policy tool, gaining a clear understanding of financial strategies and mechanisms, and achieving mass mobilisation with high political moments. Schmidt-Traub concluded by introducing some preliminary tools, such as the SDG Dashboard and SDG Index, to facilitate the process and realise the five integrated SDG priorities for Europe: innovation and jobs, energy transformation, sustainable agriculture and nutrition, sustainable industry, and supporting SDGs internationally.

Karl-Friedrich Falkenberg

During his keynote, Karl-Friedrich Falkenberg focused on the EU's stance on Agenda 2030. Falkenberg reiterated the urgent need to work along a sustainable pathway, noting the particular importance of Europe being on board with an integrated, global agenda. While acknowledging Europe's comparatively progressive policies, he pointed to existing policy gaps and the need to revisit them, especially in light of the call for a more strongly integrated approach. Calling for Europe to assume a proactive role, he said that the EU needs to take an innovative approach in extending Agenda 2030 from Brussels to all member states and beyond. Falkenberg added that culture, the "fourth dimension of sustainability", will play a crucial role in responding to changing world demographic, the most visible European crisis being the plight of refugees from conflict zones in Asia and Africa.

Day Two: The way forward

Chaired by Kenty Richardson, Director for International Relations and Strategic Development, REC, the second day's morning session featured keynote addresses from: Andrzej Kassenberg, Foundation Institute for Sustainable Development; and Laszlo Pinter, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University, and also Senior Fellow and Associate of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and a member of the REC Board of Directors.

Andrzej Kassenberg

Andrzej Kassenberg presented the position of the Eastern EU member states regarding Agenda 2030, both in terms of challenges and opportunities in the context of global megatrends and in the context of responding to two great transformations in the recent past: building democracy and introducing a market economy, and EU accession. Drawing on the experience of Poland and other Eastern EU member states, Kassenberg explained how joining up with wealthier countries has actually impeded efforts to achieve sustainability goals. While pointing to good environmental policies and a movement towards a green economy as among the benefits of EU membership, he also noted a lack of eco-innovation, an increased ecological footprint, problems with other EU policies and the slow growth of environmental entrepreneurs as parallel challenges to overcome. Kassenberg stressed the importance of innovation-fuelled growth coupled with stable institutions and improved resource and labour market efficiencies. He concluded with a reminder of our obligation to future generations, noting that the SDGs, if adapted properly, offer a pathway for socio-economic and environmental well-being.

Laszlo Pinter (centre)

Laszlo Pinter introduced a systemic way of thinking that seeks a deeper understanding of the SDGs and their importance at a critical time in human history marked by the overstepping of planetary boundaries. He presented Agenda 2030 as a complex process evolving from the Millennium Develop Goals as the cornerstone of an integrated approach towards creating a safe and just abode for humankind. Seeing this multi-stage process as one of unprecedented ambition, Pinter highlighted the complexity and variety of interlinkages between the different Agenda 2030 goals. Using scenario analysis, he demonstrated the need to scale down and adapt policies to a manageable scope at national and regional levels, starting at the basic level of developmental foundations. The eventual aim, he explained, is to decouple human development from natural resource use and negative environmental impacts. Pinter concluded with a warning not to deceive ourselves, and that policy implementation needs to be grounded in realism and backed by science.

Planning for the future

Breakout discussion for SEE countries

The two-day event concluded with two parallel discussions between the participants: one panel for Eastern European EU member states, and the other for SEE countries. The groups held separate discussions on: current sustainability issues as defined by Agenda 2030 in light of the relevance of SDGs for their respective regions; modalities and catalysts for science-policy dialogue and interaction between stakeholders promoting solutions, methodologies for transformation; and the role of Eastern EU members states and SEE countries in sharing the experiences of recent political and economic transformation.


The co-facilitators for the Eastern European MS discussion panel were Karl Falkenberg and Janos Zlinszky. The co-facilitators for the SEE discussion panel were Ingeborg Niestroy, Associate and EU Liaison, IISD; and Gordana Kozhuharova, Regional Director for South Eastern Europe, REC.

Finally, Laszlo Pinter chaired a discussion to help reach a Draft Joint Conclusion of the Regional Consultation. The list of general conclusions and recommendations will be published soon on the REC website.


Position paper