In today’s generation, sustainability has been a topic of focus for many countries who are trying to develop practices that will preserve natural resources and better our everyday lives. The EU has committed to promoting sustainability throughout their nation. In fact, the European Council adopted the first EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS) in 2001. The EU SDS’ purpose is to improve “…the quality of life on earth for both present and future generations,” according to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
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The European Council created this strategy as a framework for policies to establish a common ground for becoming more sustainable economically, environmentally, and socially. The EU’s key objectives with the sustainable development plan includes protecting the environment, therefore improving the quality of life for present and future generations by diminishing the amount of pollution and encouraging for sustainable consumption. Another objective is to advocate for an eco-friendly, efficient economy that will provide employment throughout the EU and last but not the least, promoting a society that prioritizes creating equal opportunities for all citizens. However, becoming sustainable is not as easy as it sounds. There are plenty of barriers that the EU is facing like climate change, rising rates of unemployment, pollution, and many more.
Sustainability is a concept and a global movement aimed to avoid compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and to preserve the well-being of all people. It is now a global trend with governments, companies, and individuals trying to be more sustainable. However, it does not just mean saving the environment. Becoming sustainable is also improving the quality of life by creating employment, giving back to communities, upgrading the education systems, creating equality among all citizens, providing adequate living situations, managing clean water and waste, and many more. Sustainability includes social, economical, and environmental aspects.
The European Council has put forth a set of policies and strategies to promote sustainability within Europe. They have guiding principles that serve as a framework for their strategies and some of them include the following:
Focusing on the citizens’ fundamental rights to ensure that there is no discrimination occurring
Focusing on the needs of today’s generation and looking for ways to avoid compromising the future generation’s needs
Creating an open society by allowing citizens to access information
Advocating education and participation of citizens in discussing sustainable development projects and making decision on what needs to be executed
Making sure that policies are established and implemented properly. By using these principles, the EU has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development created at a UN Summit.
The 2030 Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are goals that encompass all three concepts of sustainability: environmentally, economically, and socially. It focuses on transforming economies, managing natural resources more efficiently, creating ways for sustainable consumption, and building peaceful, culturally diverse societies. In addition, it focuses on making sure that even the most vulnerable countries are not left behind to ensure the future generations’ high quality of life. These goals are focused around the “Five P’s” which are people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. All countries in collaboration with the UN are to implement these goals into their plans.
Europe is already well on their way to achieving their Sustainable Development Goals. Their progress and achievements are definitely notable. Here are some of the actions they have taken to achieve their SDGs:
The EU has adopted a 10-year strategy on March 2010, proposed by the European Commission to improve the economy and as an action plan for SDG 1. One to four EU residents is at risk of poverty and/or social inclusion, that’s about 24% of the EU population. Monetary poverty is the most common type of poverty and it is when people’s net income, the total income after tax and other deductions divided by the number of people in the household is below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold (Eurostat, 2018).
The EU then decided to initiate the Europe 2020 Strategy which aims to employ 75% of people between the ages of 20-64, invest 3% of their GDP to research and development, increase their energy efficiency by 20%, decrease the amount of student drop outs by 10%, have people between the ages of 30-34 complete higher education, and decrease the number of people in or at risk of poverty by 20 million. The EU governments have established national targets to help track their progress and achieve their goals. Each nation’s progress can be tracked through progress reports published by the EU Statistics Office. In 2014-2015, the EU Statistics Office conducted a mid-term review to see EU’s progress with this initiative. The following statistics come from Eurostat.
The employment rates seemed to fluctuate. In 2011, the employment rate was at 68.6% and as of 2017, it is at 72.2. Their investment on research & development using Europe’s GDP is increasing, as in 2011, it was at 1.97% and in 2017, 2.03%. In the climate change and energy category, Europe seems to struggle with reaching its goal. They are also struggling in keeping the number of people at risk of poverty low. The rates have been increasing and decreasing every year, starting off at 119.6% in 2011 and 116.9% in 2017. However, Europe is making progress in making sure that the number of student drop outs decrease. In 2011, there were 13.4% of student drop outs and in 2017, the percentage dropped to 10.6%. Although Europe is having difficulties keeping their at risk of poverty or social inclusion rates low, the EU still has the lowest among others like the United States, Mexico, and more.
In 2015, about 6% of agricultural land is used for organic farming and there is a surplus of nitrogen that causes environmental pollution. In some countries, nitrogen surplus threatens their soil fertility, so Europe has revised their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to alleviate food insecurity throughout the EU. CAP originally started in 1962 and it is a partnership between the European government and its farmers. In 2013, the CAP created three new objectives which are: viable food production, sustainable management of resources and climate action, and balanced territorial development (European Commission, 2016). It is also intended to “support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, so that consumers have a stable supply of affordable food, ensure that European Union farmers can make a reasonable living, help tackling climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources, maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU, keep the rural economy alive promoting jobs in farming, agri-foods industries, and associated sectors” (European Commission, 2018).
In 2018, CAP has budgeted €160,113 billion to provide assistance to farmers (European Commission, 2018). Through the CAP, Europe is paying farmers directly in order to assure that they are getting a stable income as well as practicing sustainability in farming. In addition, the CAP takes market measures to track the progress of the agricultural markets and rural development measures to track the needs of rural areas. Furthermore, Food 2030, a food research initiative was launched to create a framework for Food and Nutrition Security.
One of their goals is to assure citizens that water and nutritious foods are affordable and accessible. This will help alleviate malnutrition and other diet-related sicknesses. It will also contribute to citizens’ health and wellbeing by making sure that everyone has access to healthy foods. Another goal is to establish a food system that adapts to climate change, as it will assist in creating a healthier way to produce healthy foods. It is also crucial to find ways to conserve natural resources that will be used for future generations as well.
Their third goal is to enforce a circular economy, where “…the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible. Waste and resource use are minimized, and when a product reaches the end of its life, it is used again to create further value” (European Commission, 2018). They are finding ways to use food waste by making it into supplements and nutrients for agricultural purposes. Their last goal is for innovation and developments in their ecosystems, which will hopefully lead to better job opportunities for residents, advancing communities, and meeting the needs of society. They are also designing sustainable solutions that citizens can partake in at home.
In 2015, 11% of students leave school early. About 13 million children under the age of 15 and 55 million people between the ages of 16-65 have poor reading skills (ELINET, 2018). Italy has the highest number of adults with literacy difficulties at 27.9%. The problem is not just about the lack of education that Europeans are receiving. Adults who are illiterate also experience social inclusion, which takes a toll on their health and wellbeing. They are often ashamed and feel as if it is too late to learn. Furthermore, it also affects their income, which can lead to monetary poverty. “The median hourly wage of workers (in England and Northern Ireland) with high scores in literacy is 94% higher than that of workers with a low score” (ELINET, 2018). Therefore, to improve EU’s quality of education and training they set up a strategic framework, the Skills Agenda to ensure opportunities for young citizens. It was adopted on June 2016 by the European Commission and it includes 10 action plans focused on giving students support, quality trainings, and tangible skills.
The goal of the Skills Agenda is to better prepare citizens, so that they can make better career choices and have a good quality of life. The European Commission is currently working with EU countries to help low-skilled adults acquire more tangible skills to help them get better job opportunities. They are also working on improving vocational education and training. In addition, they are working on supporting refugees and immigrants by using the EU Skills Profile Tool for Third-Country Nationals. Meanwhile, Education and Training 2020 is addressing issues concerning the challenges in education and training systems. It is funding programs like Erasmus+. They are also focusing on early childhood education and care, reducing the number of student drop outs, improving the quality of higher education, shaping higher education to society’s needs, developing better vocational trainings, and providing adults who have low levels of basic skills support (EUR-Lex, 2015).
There are about 12 million people in the EU that do not have access to clean water and sanitation. There are about 1.5 million deaths a year due to the lack of clean, uncontaminated water in the world. The World Health Organization European Region reported that about 14 people die every day because they do not have basic sanitation needs. It is crucial to understand that access to these basic sanitation needs has a positive correlation to poverty. Those whose income is below the disposable income threshold do not have a shower/bath or toilet accessible to them (Eurostat, 2018). Romania is among the countries who are suffering with this problem. More than 60% of Romanians below the poverty line reported that they are experiencing this dilemma. Therefore, clean water and sanitation is a major objective for the EU. Their key objectives that contribute to the SDG 6 are: “(1) to use wastewater as an important element of a water resources (circular economy), (2) to promote safe re-use of treated wastewater, and (3) to protect water ecosystems as a key for the quality of life” (Eurostat, 2018). Water sanitation is the focus especially in third world countries.
The rates have been steadily decreasing since 2005. It also became crucial to treat wastewater safely for the health of citizens and animals. Moreover, the EU is constantly tracking the water quality, looking for water pollutants (Eurostat, 2018). They have also started a secondary wastewater treatment system in areas where the population is denser. In addition, the Urban Waste Water Directive has resulted to a substantial amount of decrease in phosphate concentrations in European rivers in 2000 to 2012. The wastewater treatments that the EU has implemented in the recent years has declined the amount of biochemical oxygen demand in European rivers. According to the European Environment Agency, 28% of Europe’s water has nutrient pollution as well, meaning there is too much nitrate and phosphorus going into the bodies of water. This is mainly caused by farming with mineral and organic fertilizers, including wastewater that was not treated properly. Maintaining nitrate concentrations at a safe level is important and closely monitored by the EU.
Greenhouse gas “…absorbs the sun’s energy and heat that is radiated from the Earth’s surface, traps it in the atmosphere and prevents it from escaping into space” (European Parliament, 2018). While greenhouse gas is naturally occurring in the atmosphere, it is crucial that human activity does not produce even more than what already exists, as it contributes to global warming. The EU is the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, following China and the United States (European Parliament, 2018). Germany, Italy, France, and the UK are among the top emitters in the EU. 81.2% of CO2 was emitted in 2015, making up most of the greenhouse gas that is polluting the air and 78% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector. Therefore, the EU is focusing on enhancing energy efficiency, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, and advocating the use of renewable energy. These goals are part of the 2020 Climate & Energy Package. In reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Europe is doing a great job, as they are on track to meet their goal of reducing it by 20% by 2020.
According to European Commission’s progress report, emissions were already 23% below what it was in 1990. Europe is constantly finding ways to increasing energy efficiency in order to make it more affordable and sustainable, as the energy sector is also main greenhouse gas producer. Luckily, their progress on energy efficiency has also been significant. Reduction in energy consumption has been decreasing at an average rate of 1.07% according to the European Environment Agency, which is more than enough to reach their 2020 target. This is the result of improvements in energy efficiency in residential areas and the decreasing energy consumption in transportation services. Moreover, renewable energy has doubled since 2004 and it now makes up 16% of Europe’s gross final energy consumption, while energy productivity has also increased by 26.2% (European Commission, 2018).
Improving the quality of life through providing adequate, affordable housing and advocating energy-efficient modes of transportation has long been Europe’s goals. As a result of urbanization and the growing numbers in population, accomplishing these goals are challenging. Poverty, unemployment, socioeconomic inequalities, and etc. are often the barriers that prevent Europe from achieving their targets. These problems often influence citizens’ physical and mental health. However, in 2016, the percentage of those living in poor conditions dropped by 2.6% from 2007’s numbers (Eurostat, 3). The overcrowding rate has also been constantly dropping. Living conditions are definitely improving for Europeans, slowly but surely. However, air pollution is still a big issue. Therefore, the EU is also working to implement more sustainable transportation. To execute this, the EU plans to promote the use of energy-efficient automobiles and improve public transportation systems, which will help relieve pollution and traffic congestion.
Developing better public transportation system will allow Europeans have access to a more affordable way to commute for work, school, and leisure. Still, there are plenty of barriers that keeps the EU from attaining their goals. There has not been much progress with advocating for sustainable transportation because public transportation is not as accessible in rural areas, so cars are still the number one means of transport. “…In 2012 one in five Europeans (20.4)% reported ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of difficulty in accessing public transport, indicating that convenient public transport is not universally accessible to EU citizens” (Eurostat, 6). Citizens with disabilities, the elderly, and those at risk of poverty are also experiencing a disadvantage. Waste management is also important in trying to live more sustainable. In 2000, only 25% of waste was recycled and in 2014, the EU recycled 44% of its trash. It is a huge accomplishment in waste management.
Advocating for peace, justice, and strong institutions are also among Europe’s goals. This Sustainable Development Goal is geared towards the safety of citizens. According to statistics, Europe has become safer to live in. In 2014, there were about 4,500 homicide offences reported and the number has been decreasing by 100 every year (European Commission, 2018). “In the long term period between 2002 and 2015, the number of deaths due to homicide per 100,000 persons fell by an average of 4.8% per year. The decline has been slightly faster in the short term period since 2010, with an average decrease of 5.2% per year” (Eurostat, 2).
The rates dropped 46.9% between 2002 and 2015. Meanwhile, the crime rates have also declined. The percentage of citizens reporting crimes fell from 15.8% in 2007 to 12.5% in 2016. However, this only shows how much crimes are reported, there are not any date of how many crimes actually occurred during these years. This might be because of the ‘fear of victimization.’ “Previous research suggests that crime rate from police registers and the subjective exposure to crime may differ, as population groups with low victimization rates maybe particularly afraid of crime,” Eurostat explained. For example, the UK has the lowest homicide death rates, but they have one of the highest crime reports. Moreover, a fair justice system is something that Europe is also working on. It is harder to measure the improvements in the justice system. However, in 2018, 56% of citizens in the EU have reported that the independence of the courts and judges are ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’. It also showed that younger adults and educated people have a better understanding of their country’s justice system’s independence. Building trust into these institutions can be quite difficult because of corruption, but “EU countries continue to rank among the least corrupt ones globally in 2017 and made up half of the global top 20 least corrupt countries” (Eurostat, 7). Some countries who have are rated the least are Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.
Developing global partnerships is crucial to attaining all of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as financial controls. Cooperation between different governments is key to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Those with economic wealth can aid and support developing countries financially. In fact, Europe is still the “…biggest ODA donor globally, providing EUR 75.7 billion” (Eurostat, 4). Although the EU contributes the most, they are struggling to meet their targets. Their goal is to have donor countries devote 0.7% of their gross national income, they have only met this goal once in 2017.
Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and United Kingdom were the only EU Member States that donated 0.7% or more of their GNI in 2016. As for developing countries, the EU is attempting to implement ways to build them up. Some ways to execute this could be to use ODA to “…mobilize other financial resources such as domestic taxes or foreign investment, thus unlocking trade and private financing…blending grants with loans or equity from public and private financiers to reduce risks” (Eurostat, 5). The financial support provided by the donor countries enables Europe to invest in infrastructure, social services, adequate housing, transport, and etc. Furthermore, the “Trade for All” strategy, a trade policy that focuses on improving the trade and investment policies, carrying out current trade agreements more efficiently, and enforcing policies to be based on European values. This strategy is geared towards safeguarding a level playing field.
Finland is one of the most sustainable countries in the EU. They follow a “circular economy,” which basically means that all materials should be recycled and utilized. Industries such as pulp and paper, utilize all their materials to produce renewable energy. They also advocate for sustainable tourism. Their public transportation is built to produce less emissions and to use less energy compared to other modes of transportation. There are also 40 hotels in Finland that received the Nordic Ecolabel, the official sustainability ecolabel for hotels that meet the highest environmental standards and 20 hotels that have the global Green Key certification.
Furthermore, Finland has established programs like Quality1000 to guide businesses on becoming more sustainable. Finnish citizens also like to purchase goods and services locally to support their local communities. In addition, because of their cold climate and lack of fossil fuel reserves, Finland is constantly working to maximize their energy efficiency. However, they are trying to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels to eventually ban the use of coal by 2030. If they reach this goal, Finland will become the first industrialized country to ban coal power. This will also result in a tremendous decrease in emissions. Finland is also working on improving their transportation systems.
In fact, they plan on increasing the share of biofuels by 30% by 2030. 90% of bottles and cans are recycled.http://www.goodnewsfinland.com/finland-makes-move-towards-sustainable-future/SloveniaSlovenia has adopted their own Development Strategy 2030, which also encompasses the UN’s 2030 Agenda in order to provide a higher quality of life for Slovenian residents. “The country’s strategic orientations to achieve a high quality of life are: (1) inclusive, healthy, safe, and responsible society, (2) learning for and through life, (3) highly productive economy that generates value added for all, (4) well-preserved natural environment, and (5) high level of cooperation, competence and governance efficiency” (vlada.si, 3). One of their goals is to increase the percentage of residents participating in lifelong learning in which they are slightly above the EU average, but still have a lot to work on to reach their 2030 target.
Furthermore, the risk of poverty or social exclusion has been declining due to advancements in their labour markets and the reintroduction of grants for students. Their income inequality rose by a little, but they still remain to have the least amount among other EU countries. On the environmental side, Slovenia has been making huge impacts on their energy efficiency. Constructing better insulation systems in buildings, installing more efficient heating systems, and many more are contributing to the reducing rates of energy consumption. They also closed down a major thermal power plant that resulted in their greenhouse gas emissions being 18% lower than their peak year in 2008. Germany.
Despite the fact that Germany has the highest GDP per capita, they are also one of the more sustainable countries in the EU. They have started closing down nuclear power plants and by 2022, they will all be phased out because power plants go against their renewable energy strategy. In the recent decade, the share of renewable energies has tripled to 14.8%, according to the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. They also adopted the Cogeneration Act, which reuses wasted heat in power generation and increases fuel consumption efficiency. Their goal is to have 25% of their power supply generated from cogeneration units by 2020. Germany’s Program to Reduce CO2 Emissions from Buildings has been expanded in order to increase energy efficiency in buildings. This program funds buildings in the form of low-interest loans and grants to build or renovate buildings up to a certain energy efficient standard. They have also implemented vehicle tax in 2009, which taxed buyers based on the vehicle’s CO2 emissions.
Furthermore, Germany has great options for alternative forms of transportation. Their public transport system is easily accessible and affordable to everyone including the elders and disabled. They offer discounts for students, children, and the senior citizens. Public transport might not be as accessible in rural areas, but roughly 88% of Germans live within a km from a bus stop. Germany is also proactive in waste management. They continue to raise awareness about effective waste prevention actions that residents can easily partake in. They have implemented a 5 tier waste hierarchy: prevention, preparation for reuse, recycling, other forms of recovery, and disposal. Their bio waste is used for compost, which is then used as fertilizers and sometimes used to recover biogas. Biogas can be used to generate power, enabling an increase in renewable energy. In addition, they have enforced the Commercial Wastes Ordinance which required commercial businesses to separate their waste and pretreat their leftover mixed waste.
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