The EU, Slovenia and the Sustainable Development Goals: success story or confronting reality?

The European Sustainable Development Week (ESDW) 2022 is taking place from 20 September to 26 September 2022, on which occasion Prof. Roberto BiloslavoProgramme Director of the Management of Sustainable Development programme at the UP Faculty of Management, has written a perspective on the situation in the European Union and Slovenia, which is published below.


The European Sustainable Development Week is being held to promote the organisation of events and other activities to raise awareness of sustainable development. The initiative is associated with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are defined under the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental.

To understand where the EU stands on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) after the Covid-19 two-year period and amid the energy crisis, let's take a look at the results of Eurostat's sixth progress report on the Goals, prepared in cooperation with the Wirtschaftsuniversität, Vienna. As this year's report shows, significant progress has been made on the goal to reduce poverty and social exclusion (SDG 1), the economy and labor market (SDG 8), clean and affordable energy (SDG 7), and innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9). However, the report's authors pointed out that in the area of poverty (SDG 1), the available data partly covers the period up to 2019 and does not fully capture the impact of the pandemic. On the other hand, the favorable assessment of SDG 7 is strongly correlated with the remarkable reduction in energy consumption in 2020 due to the reduction in public life and lower economic activity during the containment of the COVID-19 virus. The EU has also made good progress on the goals of health and well-being (SDG 3), conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources (SDG 14), and gender equality (SDG 5). Progress on the remaining nine goals has been markedly slower, with some even showing a slight downward trend over the last five years. Overall, we can conclude that Covid-19 has contributed indirectly to progress in some areas, but this is in many ways related to the reduced economic activity in the first year of the pandemic. Although the report is dated 2022, the data included do not fully capture the last period of the pandemic, when economic growth picked up, and in particular tourism and related travel, which in a large number of European countries recovered to pre-pandemic figures.

Where is Slovenia? We can say that the picture of what is happening in the EU reflects very well what is happening in the field of sustainable development in Slovenia. Working from home, reduced economic activity during the first period of the pandemic, a halted tourism sector along with hospitality services, and at the same time fresh money from Brussels for investment have all contributed to the fact that the trend has turned positive for many of the objectives in Slovenia too. However, this may only be a temporary situation, which could change quickly with the following review. After an initial cooling of the economy, there has been a turnaround and the economic trajectory has turned upwards, at least in Slovenia, even though companies have faced problems in their supply chains and rising commodities prices. The latter impacted selling prices and consequently inflation but did not stop the demand for products. This trend was also reflected in the labor market, where companies were intensively looking for much-needed staff. With energy prices, this rather idyllic picture has changed in the last few months.

 European policy measures on Russian oil and gas have exposed some key structural weaknesses in European energy policy, which have been well exploited by markets and various speculators, pushing energy prices sky-high. The desired transformation of the energy sector towards sustainable sources in the (too) short term and the shift towards gas, where Europe has no gas resources of its own and is mainly dependent on Russian gas, proved to be more often than not the wrong decision. As energy inputs enter the production chain directly or indirectly, their higher price has pushed up the price of final products, and above all, the expected gas shortages have raised several questions about how to ensure the normal functioning of the economy and the supply of households in the coming winter. As a result, many countries are taking steps that take us back to the era of coal or the more 'friendly' nuclear energy, rather than to the development of alternative and environmentally friendly sources. While much-needed measures are being taken to maintain a minimum standard of living for the poorer part of the population, there are also problems for the "middle class". With higher interest rates being adopted by the European Central Bank to curb inflation, higher monthly bills and the cost of living in general, and an uncertain future with the war in Ukraine and relations with Russia, the sustainability goals of 1) ending poverty, 2) ending hunger, 3) ensuring inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full employment and decent work, and 4) affordable and clean energy may be well off track this year and next. The extent to which this shift will take place depends largely on whether the EU Member States can agree and move beyond their narrow national, and sometimes purely private, elite interests to find solutions that benefit the individual, the community, and the environment. There is plenty of knowledge on how to do this, including in Slovenia. This is demonstrated by projects ranging from the Deep Demonstration model of a systemic transition to a circular, regenerative and low-carbon economy in Slovenia to projects at the level of individual cities, e.g. Ljubljana, Maribor, and others. But unfortunately, without the right political will to get the necessary projects off the ground, knowledge alone cannot guarantee success. But if we try to look at all this from a positive point of view, then we have to believe that as a society we will be able to show enough empathy and common sense to persevere on a path that allows a dignified way of life for all, without depleting natural resources and exceeding nature's capacity to absorb the waste generated by our activities. Our posterity will be very grateful to us for this.

Prof. Roberto Biloslavo, Programme Director of the Management of Sustainable Development programme at the UP Faculty of Management


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Thursday, September 22, 2022 | FM | Education

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