It is no coincidence that 2015 is the European Year for Development. We are at a pivotal moment in the history of our planet, and the European Union must continue to lead the movement for a sustainable use of its resources. As the First Vice-President of the European Commission, with overall responsibility for sustainable development, I take our leadership role very seriously. “Our world, our dignity, our future” is the motto of this European year, and signals our global outlook.
2015 will be a defining year for sustainable development, not just in Europe but for the world. In Addis Ababa, in July, we will aim to strengthen the financing for development; at the 70th UN General Assembly in September, we will agree new global sustainable development goals; and in Paris, in December, we will adopt a new international climate change agreement. The European Union will come with ambitious goals for all of these talks.
Sustainable development has long been at the heart of the European project, and we have always looked at the term in a broad sense. The EU treaties, which bind our 28 member countries, give legal recognition to its economic, social and environmental dimensions. Under the leadership of the EU institutions, our Member States have agreed on a long-term policy agenda in which economic growth, social cohesion and environmental protection go hand in hand and are mutually reinforcing. We have a vision for growth that is built around job creation and poverty reduction (“inclusive”), education and innovation (“smart”), low-carbon emissions and low resource use (“sustainable”).
Europe has always taken a global lead on the environment and promoted ambitious international targets. In 2005, we launched the biggest emissions trading scheme in the world, the cornerstone of our policy to combat climate change. We have the world’s highest standards to protect, conserve and enhance our natural capital and biodiversity.
The new European Commission, in office since November 2014, is determined to take these policies to the next level, fully integrating their social, economic and environmental dimensions. We are setting up a new and forward-looking energy and climate framework for 2030, leading us towards a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy. For example, this year we will revise the emissions trading scheme, making it more effective, and we will take action for a European Energy Union, which will reduce our carbon footprint and aid the transition to renewable energy sources.
This will be reinforced by our flagship economic policy, an investment plan which will attract €315 billion of public and private investment into the EU economy. The new commission will achieve its economic goals with the building of socially and environmentally sustainable new industries. Renewable energy infrastructure will be among the targeted projects.
Action on the circular economy is symbolic of our new approach. We will present new proposals to increase re-use and recycling in Europe, and boost both intelligent product design and the market for recycled materials. This will help build a new generation of European businesses with innovative technologies which export clean products around the globe and create sustainable jobs in Europe, helping to curb our unemployment levels, especially among the young.
Europe’s commitment to sustainable development goes well beyond the Union’s borders. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals have now guided EU development policy for 15 years. More than half of all development aid comes from the EU and its member countries, making us, collectively, the world’s largest donor. Along with other international partners, we have achieved remarkable results. The proportion of people in poverty has been reduced by more than half, while 9 out of 10 children—both boys and girls—in developing countries now start school.
Building on our European experience, we are building consensus for a new transformative post-2015 agenda with a new set of global development goals. We want an ambitious framework that is universally applicable to all countries, brings together poverty eradication and sustainable development, and will further integrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions. National ownership and leadership will be of key importance, supported by political commitment at the highest level.
We will also continue to emphasize the promotion of fundamental rights. Democracy, the rule of law and gender equality are all key prerequisites to achieving true sustainable development and, ultimately, protecting human dignity.
Together, we have started a journey to a more sustainable future. The European Union will act with determination in this crucial year, and the rest of the world must act too. Wangari Maathai, environmental activist and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004, said, “You can make a lot of speeches, but the real thing is when you dig a hole, plant a tree, give it water, and make it survive. That’s what makes the difference.” There will be lots of nice speeches this year. In Europe we’ll make sure there is action too. ▲