Making the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the basis for a long-term EU strategy for a sustainable Europe by 2030 was the focus of debates with European Commission’s Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen at the plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 26 June. CoR members also adopted the opinion by Arnoldas Abramavičius (LT/EPP) focusing on the role of regions and cities in localising the SDGs.

Given that 65% of the 169 targets included in the 17 SDGs cannot be reached without the involvement of sub-national actors, bottom-up approaches and multi-level governance are paramount for achieving the ambitious goals set by the United Nations’ Agenda 2030.

“Our cities, municipalities and regions are our major implementing and innovation partners. Without this close link, we could not achieve the goals we have decided together at the EU level”, confirmed Jyrki Katainen.

EPP-CoR rapporteur Abramavičius supports an overarching strategy for a sustainable Europe containing targets, timelines and deliverables by 2030. This would have the advantage of going beyond political cycles and addressing all issues simultaneously.

Implementing the SDGs on the ground will require mainstreaming the goals within all EU policies as well as the support and integration of regional, national and EU funds, including cohesion policy. Building a more sustainable and inclusive model for Europe requires far-reaching structural reforms as well as a binding code of conduct on partnership between all levels of government. “The tools are there, what we need is the political will to make the SDGs a priority”, said Abramavičius.

Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions (EPP/FI) highlighted the role of many regions as pioneers in localising the SDGs. Regions and cities are essential not only as mere implementers but also as policy-makers closest to their citizens, businesses and local communities, he believes. “My hometown Espoo, the second largest city in Finland, has set the goal of reaching the Agenda 2030 by 2025 as part of the UN SDG 25+5 cities leadership program and supports also other cities in the transformation process globally”, Markkula said.

Jelena Drejnanin (EPP/SE) underlined the importance of education and training in changing society and allowing more women to actively participate in their local and regional communities.

Cities and regions need to be able to make better use of European funds for a low carbon economy, social funds, education and jobs in the next progamming period, stressed Manuel Pleguezuelo (EPP/ES) during the debate with Katainen.

Regions delivering technologies, innovations and solutions to tackle climate change

“Citizens overwhelmingly recognise the need for climate action. The work of regional and local actors is vital, their everyday actions in climate and energy policy at the level closest to citizens,” said Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete during a debate with CoR members on the role of EU regions in multilevel governance of climate change and energy transition on 27 June.

Member States have until the end of the year to submit their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). “The responsibilities, expertise and political engagement of cities and regions should be recognised and taken into account when drafting these plans”, stressed CoR rapporteur on the NCEPs, József Ribànyi (EPP/HU).

The EU is supporting cities and regions by investing 20 % of EU funding programmes in climate-related action by 2020. “More blue and green investments and innovation are needed”, underlined Sirpa Hertell (EPP/FI), calling for at least 30 per cent of the next MFF to be committed to climate mainstreaming.

“We need to do everything we can to have cities and regions included in the forums where the real decisions are made. It is our duty to promote local and regional climate action on the ground. We are ready to do more,” underlined Markku Markkula.

Emil Boc (EPP/RO), Mayor of Cluj-Napoca, provided an example from his city where the entire public transport fleet will be electric by 2025.

CoR rapporteur on sustainable energy transition, Witold Stepien (EPP/PL), called for more additional funding for coal regions under cohesion policy in the next EU funding period to ensure these regions are not left behind. Heinz Lehmann (EPP/DE) underlined the need for targeted investment in education and innovation in coal regions in order to create alternative local jobs so that people do not have to leave their region.

“Regional climate actions have three times as much impact as measures adopted by national governments”, said Raffaele Cattaneo (EPP/IT) and underlined the need for more funding and support to improve the energy efficency of existing buildings.

“My region is too small to stop climate change alone”, said Barbara Eibinger-Miedl (EPP/AT) and continued: “But we are big enough to deliver technologies, innovations and solutions. At the moment, 550 million tonnes of CO2 are being saved worldwide, thanks to solutions developed in my region, 40 times more than we emit”, she concluded.

See all articles