With poverty rising increasingly on the national agenda of various EU member states, various think tanks, institutions and even governments have been asking themselves a question that was recently posed – will Europe’s sustainability strategy end up as a casualty of the euro crisis or will it pave the way for an ambitious restart?

As things stand, Europe’s economy should not just grow but it should also target social inclusion and the responsible use of resources. This point was made forcefully by the Bertelsmann Stiftung (a private non-profit foundation in Germany) only days ago.

Their main concern was that although the goal of sustainability may be embedded in the European Union treaty and the EU’s economic strategies, the emphasis on GDP growth and competitiveness in battling the crisis is, according to them, threatening to undermine efforts to establish a common approach for sustainable economic activity.

There is no doubt that a sustainable Europe needs a strategy that facilitates economic strength and political stability, while guaranteeing the viability of social and environmental systems.

That it is indeed time for a new approach is triggered even more by the fact that progress, so far, has been erratic and sporadic in spite of the EU having developed its own sustainability strategy (EU SDS) way back in 2001.

Most of this strategy’s key features were a decade later, integrated into the EU’s 10-year growth strategy, Europe 2020.

The general feeling is that they have lost traction in practice as time went by. The EU SDS had been created in tandem with the Lisbon strategy that had originally been in place until 2010.

Not only was the objective of a 70 per cent employment rate not met but even though more people were employed, this had failed to reduce the poverty.

While the Lisbon strategy drew a distinction between economic, financial, employment and social concerns, Europe 2020 by contrast had been designed to achieve what advocates of sustainable development have long called for – making social and environmental issues axiomatic components of economic thinking.

There seems to be a strong feeling that sustainability has been tossed by the wayside as member states targeted more or less exclusively GDP growth, enhanced competitiveness and budget reforms.

With the commission nearing its cyclical life-end, the general opinion is that it will not be undertaking any further revision of the old EU SDS.

On the other hand, there are many who understandably argue that Europe 2020 and the EU SDS should be prioritised and negotiated as a package by the incoming European Commission.

Only this way can Europe tangibly make a timely contribution to the post-2015 agenda. Unless the EU SDS will be synchronised with that of the UN agenda for the post-2015 era, rhetoric is likely to prevail.

We can only play a prominent part in shaping UN development goals for this new era if our own goals become more ambitious in this GDP-oriented, crisis management-oriented phase.

If we really mean business, we must look at innovative solutions, new business models, adopt a green mindset and also think in terms of rewarding green investments.

We need to rethink our future

Under the Danish presidency of the EU, there was a strong push to ensure that improving resource efficiencies in the value chain would lead to tangible results. One telling lesson we can ill afford to ignore is that not only do climate and environmental challenges impact in particular fragile states with low resilience and capacity to deal with lack of water, food or extreme weather conditions. But perhaps even more importantly, that this inter linkage between green solutions and conflict prevention should not be ignored.

I remain impressed by an observation made in the Danish capital when I had attended a conference there in my capacity as shadow minister. That with focus, resolve and ambition, we can lower the global thermostat and raise the level of economic opportunity for all – from the poorest households to the largest enterprises.

During a global green growth forum, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon posed some interesting challenges to one and all. Mainly we all need to raise our level of ambition by scaling up the investments and financial flows necessary for making the transformation to a low-carbon economy.

When convening at next September’s climate summit, the UN secretary general was not simply thinking of a government leaders’ summit. He intends to bring together government, business, finance and civil society leaders from around the world to mobilise political will for the climate negotiations while delivering new commitments.

all this is not the exclusive domain of the environmental sector, as many tend to conclude wrongly. Such enlightened action can create new jobs, improve public health, protect the environment and also spur sustainable green growth. In my opinion, the only key to success lies in engaging the private sector as proactively as possible.

Governments need to engage in an intensive dialogue with the private sector to develop a deeper understanding of how public cooperation can best advance green growth.

This can best be done through five key areas, for which its collaboration is pivotal: spurring innovation, creating green markets, improving natural resources management, enhancing resource efficiency and productivity while supporting green and climate resilient infrastructure.

We need to rethink our future.

Leo Brincat is Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change.

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