The Future Europe Wants: A Green and Digital, Job-Based and Inclusive Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic

UN SDSN REPORT | 18 February 2021


PARIS, 18 February – Recognizing the global sustainability challenges, European Union leaders have adopted the European Green Deal with wide-ranging goals for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient, technologically advanced, and socially equitable continent. They have also decided to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the European Semester, which is the major process for the coordination of national economic and employment policies in the EU, thereby deciding to “put people and the planet at the center of EU economic policy”. In addition to these decisions made in 2019 and early 2020, EU leaders responded to the immense health, environmental, and economic challenges posed by the pandemic with a strong “Next Generation EU” package of policies and funds to boost economic recovery while pursuing Europe’s green transition.
In an attempt to connect the dots between these four major policy initiatives – the SDGs, the European Green Deal, the European Semester, and the EU recovery plan – the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Europe (SDSN Europe) has produced a new report, Transformations for the Joint Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the European Green Deal: A Green and Digital, Job-Based and Inclusive Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic, to support policymakers with actionable strategies that can guide EU-wide and national economic recovery in line with the continent’s overarching sustainability agenda.
The authors developed a method to explore whether the European Commission’s Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs – an outcome of the European Semester process) are aligned with the SDGs and the European Green Deal’s main policy areas. The analysis shows that the EU has largely achieved mainstreaming SDGs in its strategic priorities, but there are still some remaining discrepancies: a number of issues that have been identified as major or significant challenges in the SDSN’s Sustainable Development Report 2020 are not captured by CSRs.
On the road to sustainable societies by the mid-21st century, governments need to make consistent decisions about investment flows and to enable a green financial sector for investing in technologies that can help achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal. The report outlines technological and investment pathways to attain climate-neutral and circular economies. In particular, it identifies six pillars towards EU climate neutrality (encompassing energy, resource efficiency, and land use), describes the necessary governance for preparing National Climate Neutrality Roadmaps to 2050, and provides elements for an enabling policy framework that can contribute to the decarbonization goal.
Greening the financial sector will not come alone; it requires proactive action by governments towards transformational spending and investment, and today, such green conditionalities are a unique opportunity to direct economic growth towards a systemic transition to sustainability.
The first SDSN Europe Report proves the economic case for a green, digital, job-based and socially inclusive European recovery. The report details the co-creation approach for the design of the necessary transformation pathways, based on the EGD and the SDGs. The enhanced MFF and the NGEU is a once-in-a-century opportunity to transform our financial, economic, social and political systems towards “the sustainable and resilient future Europe wants”! – Phoebe Koundouri, SDSN Europe Co-Chair

To make this transition inclusive and just, especially since the pandemic has eliminated or endangered millions of jobs around Europe, the impacts on employment prospects and the need for new skills in the population are essential elements of any economic recovery plan. A ‘return-to-normal’ economic stimulus is not only environmentally unsustainable but also economically inferior to a green recovery strategy. Growth- and employment-enhancing measures in Europe are not only those related to green energy but also those promoting circular economy, organic agriculture, and nature-based solutions. Europe has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to accelerate the transformation to sustainable societies, whereby governments intervene proactively and co-design a systemic green transition with broad participation of societal stakeholders.
The report is downloadable online.
Access the report
Sachs, J., Koundouri, P., et al., 2021. Transformations for the Joint Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the European Green Deal – A Green and Digital, Job-Based and Inclusive Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Report of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
A special thanks to the SDSN’s European Green Deal Senior Working Group for the Energy Transition who authored the report, including the following members. Organizations are for identification purposes only.
  • Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University, SDSN President
  • Phoebe Koundouri, Athens University of Economics and Business, SDSN Europe Co-Chair
  • Leonardo Becchetti, University of Rome Tor Vergata
  • Paolo Carnevale, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (emeritus)
  • Laura Cozzi, International Energy Agency
  • Mariana Mazzucato, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
  • Martha McPherson, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
  • Dr. Carlo Papa, Enel Foundation
  • Theodoros Zachariadis, The Cyprus Institute, Manager SDSN Europe

About the SDSN
SDSN mobilizes global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) and the Paris Climate Agreement. In Europe, over 300 members and 13 national and regional networks of SDSN are part of SDSN Europe, a common initiative that aims to align the European recovery with the Agenda 2030. Leveraging on the research within the networks as well as on the SDSN’s work on the Six Transformations and other publications, SDSN Europe will play an active role in the shaping of a sustainable and resilient Europe.
Media Contacts:
Cheyenne Maddox
Outreach and Events Manager, SDSN
Maria Lentoudi
Communications Manager, SDSN Europe

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