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Despite important achievements in implementing the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS), unsustainable trends persisted, 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 27 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. Furthermore, in 2002 the global community reaffirmed its commitment towards a world-wide sustainable development in the Johannesburg Summit and through the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

The EU SDS was consequently renewed in 2006, following a broad public consultation and an in-depth preparatory process with adoption by Heads of State and Governments at the European Council of 15-16 June 2006. The renewed EU SDS set out a single, coherent strategy on how the EU will more effectively live up to its long-standing commitment to meet the challenges of sustainable development. It recognised the need to gradually change unsustainable consumption and production patterns and move towards a better integrated approach to policy-making. It reaffirmed the need for global solidarity and recognised the importance of strengthening work with partners outside the EU, including those rapidly developing countries which will have a significant impact on global sustainable development.

The European Council followed the implementation development over the subsequent years, emphasizing in December 2007 (Council conclusions) to give priority for implementation efforts.

In July 2009 the Commission adopted the 2009 Review of EU SDS. It underlined 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 European Council in December 2009 (Council conclusions) confirmed that “Sustainable development remains a fundamental objective of the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty. As emphasised in the Presidency’s report on the 2009 review of the Union’s Sustainable Development Strategy, the strategy will continue to provide a long-term vision and constitute the overarching policy framework for all Union policies and strategies. A number of unsustainable trends require urgent action: significant additional efforts are needed to curb and adapt to climate change, to decrease high energy consumption in the transport sector and to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and natural resources. The shift to a safe and sustainable low-carbon and low-input economy will require a stronger focus in the future. Priority actions should be more clearly specified in future reviews. Governance, including implementation, monitoring and follow-up mechanisms should be reinforced for example through clearer links to the future EU 2020 strategy and other cross-cutting strategies.”

Linkage with the Europe 2020 Strategy

In the EU, a key issue is to mainstream sustainable development thinking into various parts of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Strategy, which was adopted in 2010, contributed to moving Europe out of the crisis and laying the foundations for a more sustainable future built on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

A horizontal approach for mainstreaming is in line with the Treaty’s ‘integration principle’ (as set out in Article 11 TFEU) and has so far proven its worth. For instance, external audits have concluded that the Commission’s impact assessment system works effectively and that sustainability issues are appropriately addressed within it. Key areas for mainstreaming are i.a. the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), through the energy union and climate policy, and in particular the work on the circular economy.

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