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'There is a Waste Problem' / Alex Proimos (compfight)

Sustaining the future

Janez Potočnik | 20 November 2013

Recent decades have seen great strides in two closely related challenges: the battle against poverty around the globe, and efforts to protect our planet. The role of the European Union has been significant: as the world's biggest development donor, we have helped enrol more than 13 million children in schools, brought life-saving vaccines to 18 million children, and provided more than 70 million people with access to water. We have also been a driving force in building consent to preserve biodiversity, fighting climate change and protecting natural capital.

Despite these achievements, pressing challenges remain. Eradicating poverty and ensuring that prosperity and well-being are sustainable are formidable tasks. Too many people still live in unbearable conditions, struggling for food, clean water and basic health.  Most of the world's poorest depend directly on their environment for their livelihoods. This makes them even more vulnerable to the economic consequences of natural resource degradation, biodiversity loss, pollution and the effects of climate change. These problems are often interconnected, and they need to be addressed by all countries together.

As the deadlines we set for the MDGs draw nearer, it is time to look at the lessons learned if we want to achieve a dignified life for all. To trigger change, clear and precise goals and targets for sustainable development are an absolute necessity. It will be vital to factor the global use of natural resources into the new overarching policy framework. This means that the "pillars of life" – resources like soil, biodiversity, oceans, raw materials and energy – will need to be managed in a sustainable way if we are to ensure a fair future for all. In addition, poverty can only be eliminated by ensuring equity, justice and good governance, as empowerment and the right institutional framework are of key importance.

World leaders recently gathered in New York to follow-up on the MDGs in the period beyond 2015. The outcome is ambitious and sends a clear signal on next steps, with a road-map leading up to a major summit in 2015 for poverty eradication and sustainable development. An important advance was to bring together the on-going review of the MDGs and the follow-up to Rio+20. The objective is to achieve a single set of goals and targets that will apply to all countries in the world. I am confident that this unified approach is the best way to address both poverty eradication and sustainable development. In New York, we also inaugurated the High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development, which will oversee the review in the implementation of our post-2015 commitments.

Sustainable development is a broad agenda with several objectives varying from poverty eradication, sustainable consumption and production patterns, to protecting and managing the natural resource basis. The global economy needs to move towards a more circular model where waste is considered a resource and reintroduced in the economy instead of being a burden on our environment.  The challenges are inter-linked and solutions will not be found if they are treated in isolation. The timescale too is important, so we are looking to set goals by 2030, based on a shared long-term vision.

We do not often get the opportunity to develop a new overarching policy framework. But that is what we must try to do now, with clear and precise goals and targets that will apply to all countries in the world, for post-2015. We have to seize this opportunity. The EU will continue to strive for global sustainable development, supporting above all the transition to an inclusive green economy.

Photo credit main picture: 'There is a Waste Problem' / Alex Proimos (compfight)