Analytics, Economic History, EU – Baltic States, Modern EU

International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Monday, 16.09.2019, 09:44

Enforcing sustainability: modern challenges and needed reforms (I)

Eugene Eteris, Latvian Academy of Sciences, senior adviser; BC International Editor, Copenhagen, 16.08.2019.Print version
The global sustainable agenda requires the states to take all necessary measures (“what it takes”) to implement UN sustainable development goals by 2030. Generally, these measures involve three spheres of national governance: social, environmental and economic; but none of them shall be effective without adequate reforms in existing national education and training policies.

Introduction: The “Baltic Course Magazine” decided to publish a couple of articles concerning some general issues in SDGs implementation in the EU states with attention to economic, social and environmental aspects of transformation and governance (first article) and some urgent issues on modernising national education policies in the Baltic Sea Region with a closer attention to the teaching sustainability’s priorities (second article).    


Sustainable development agenda, the so-called “Development Agenda-2030” adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 by 193 countries titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, a couple of months before the conclusion of Paris agreement for climate change mitigation. The 17 SDGs have had specific targets -169 in total -to be achieved by 2030. Although all the SDGs are among the European and Baltic States’ immediate priorities, some of them are definitely of vital importance. In this sense, the SDGs for the Baltic Sea Region can be divided into two big groups, i.e. general and sectoral. In  the general group there could be about nine SDGs: such as promoting well being (SDG-3), gender equality (SDG-5), sustainable economic growth (SDG-8), sustainable infrastructure and innovation (SDG-9), sustainable consumption and production (SDG-12), climate change (SDG-13), oceans and marine resources (SDG-14), terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity (SDG-15) and inclusive societies (SDG-16). In the “sectoral group”, there could be such SDGs as sustainable agriculture (2), quality education (4), water management (6), as well as sustainable energy and cities (7 and 11). This “division” is purely personal and based on SDGs’ “generic importance” with a view to design some specific research areas in SDGs implementation.    


The EU states are strengthening their efforts to translate the SDGs into concrete actions: in the next five years (2019-24) the new European Commission’s college will try to fully integrate the SDGs into the member states’ socio-economic governance and their development strategies. In fact, the process actually started somewhere in the beginning of 2000s, then intensified after 2015 with the Paris Agreement and Agenda-2030.  


Some of the EU member states are already at the forefront of transforming the UN 2030 Agenda into reality. However, the states have to accelerate progress towards sustainable development by using more active their structural policies, science and research potentials, as well as education and training policies, regardless of the fact that the latter, according to the EU law, are among states’ own competences with only “slight EU coordination”.


Thus, the states’ governance shall establish the inseparable connections between the education and the SDGs both in the classrooms and structural policies. 


 More on “Sustainable Europe by 2030” in:; additional info on the Agenda-2030 in:

The EU support in SDGs’ transition

The European Commission has constantly repeated that the UN Agenda-2030 could only be achieved “by knitting together” social, economic and environmental dimensions in the member states’ so-called “green growth” policies. The main problem, however, is that the transition process to such “green growth” in the states towards sustainable development is “balancing” between the need for greater GDP and profitable SDGs implementation with adequate level of competitiveness in Europe and the world. 


The Commission realizes that the SDGs implementation will need additional resources: therefore some financial assistance is already available through several EU funds: including European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) and cohesion policy funds (i.e. the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund (CF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).


 More in Commission’s communication at:


On Latvian “transition to green growth” see chapters 1.4 and 2.3 in: Eteris E. Latvia in Europe and the world: growth strategy for a new centennial. –Zinatne Publish., Riga, Latvia. 2018. – 208 pp. ISBN 978-9934-549-55-7. Reviewed in:  


In January 2019, the European Commission presented a reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” which showed the EU states’ progress in implementing SDGs and identified some priorities in moving forward. Among the vital priorities are: - developing a fully circular economy, - creating a sustainable food system, - making steps to “green energy”, - sustainable mobility, tourism and construction sector, to name a few. Besides, the states have to “gear all horizontal policy tools”: from education and digitisation to finance and taxation, towards sustainability transition.


More in the Commission reflection paper:

Source: European Union’s progress report-2019 on sustainable development. July 2019. In: 


Actually, there are already about eight EU states that have adopted carbon-neutral-2050-strategies; some 3-4 states didn’t show great ambitions in “green growth” perspectives with meager interest in turning their economies along sustainable paths. Although these countries “formally” adopted national sustainable strategies, that didn’t have real and practical consequences for changes in economic models. The main stumbling block for these states was the “transition compensation” for turning their traditional economies into circular and sustainable, as well as CO2 neutral, way.


Therefore, the EU institutions are seeing their urgent SDGs’ implementation priorities in showing the states the most productive and efficient ways in transforming sustainability and green growth in line with the increasing GDP and welfare. Only in this way the member states would show willingness to implement new models for growth. In a sense, the “Green Deal for Europe” shall be a new strategy both for the whole EU and its member states.


More in: SDGs in the EU: monitoring progress. In:

SDGs’ efficiency and sufficiency: a line of research

However, the SDGs’ “transforming and implementation issues” have not been that simple and plain in practice. Even some opponents have raised their voices with the view of “too ambitious SDGs”.  Thus a recent report called “decoupling debunked”, prepared by seven scientists from around the world in summer 2019, highlights the need for rethinking of “green growth” policies and to complement efficiency with sufficiency (debunked refers to exposing the false premises and concepts). The authors’ conclusion is clearly negative: not only there is no empirical evidence supporting the existence of a decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures on anywhere near the scale needed to deal with environmental breakdown, but such decoupling appears unlikely to happen in the future.


The Report underlines the need for new socio-economic approaches to national sustainability’s policies; policy-makers have to keep in mind that addressing climate change measures and SDGs may require “a direct downscaling of economic production and consumption in the wealthiest countries”.


Source: Parrique T., Barth J., Briens F., C. Kerschner, Kraus-Polk A., Kuokkanen A., Spangenberg J.H., 2019. ”Decoupling debunked: Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability”. European Environmental Bureau, EEB. Brussels. – 80 pp. In:


The commodities’ producers are unanimous in keeping the status quo: thus, said ENI’s vice-president recently, EU states import 75% of gas and 80% oil; with the Brexit, these figures could be higher. Electrification is expected to be a driving force in the energy mix with extensive use of renewables. However, only 38% of the available energy sources are converted into electricity and in 2040 only 31% of the global final uses of energy will be electrified (58% residential, 28% industry, 10% transports). Oil and gas will still be more than 50% of the primary energy demand (coal is expected to be generally excluded for the energy mix).


Therefore, according to ENI, the transition will take quite a long time, i.e. “at least next 15 years”; European fossil fuel suppliers must be examined carefully if the EU wants to preserve and support its industrial basis.


Reference to: Pistelli L. ENI’s executive vice president in “The energy transition in the European political context. - International Association of Oil & Gas Producers in:


Economic aspects in SDGs reforms

European researchers are having three main spheres in a modern society’s SDGs development: green growth, preventing negative impact on climate change and sustainability. The EU leaders’ message about European 2019-24 strategic development program (adopted in June 2019), among four main directions mentioned two which are important in this regard connected to: a) developing stronger economic bases in the member states, and b) building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe.


Reference to: “New Strategic Programme 2019-2024” in:


In order to combine the general and sectoral SDGs in a national strategy, the EU member states’ governments need a serious scientific analysis on practical implementation of the SDGs’ “major elements” into the national developmental plans. For example, climate action must be seen by the Baltic States’ decision-makers as an integral component among other important national socio-economic policy objectives, such as promoting sustainable economic development, improving energy security, and addressing air pollution impacts on human health.


For example, the new EU energy policy framework called "Clean energy for all Europeans” package empowers European consumers to become active players in the energy transition and fixed two new targets for the EU states by 2030: a binding renewable energy target of at least 32% and an energy efficiency target of at least 32.5%, with a possible upward revision in 2023. For the electricity market, it confirmed the 2030 interconnection target of 15%, following on from the 10% target for 2020.


These ambitious targets will stimulate European states’ industrial competitiveness, boost growth and jobs, reduce energy bills and improve air quality. Implementing these aims would lead to steeper emission reductions in the states by some 45% by 2030 relative to 1990 (compared to the existing target of a 40% reduction).




Regardless of the fact that the EU summit in June 2019 could not reach a unanimous decision on CO2-nutral EU by 2050, several EU states have taken already structural changes leading to national budget’s allocations and public spending to climate actions.


Social aspects in ADGs reforms

National political economy has to integrate the mentioned changes into existing budget plans, create the regulatory requirements, market incentives and innovative space to achieve the said objectives. In order to meet climate pledges and overcome political, economic and social barriers to achieve the rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions both the national policy and “social contract” shall be in place.


Generally, a “perspective shift” is needed to bring climate change requirements and peoples’ well-being into a synchronized political-economy’s process. There are definite important SDGs with the “social effect”: well being, life-long learning, employment, reducing inequality and promoting inclusive societies, to name a few; these are all perspective themes of research and guidelines for national social progress.

The Commission’s reflection paper highlights that there is no sustainability without social sustainability (italics mine, EE); this is why it is of fundamental importance to ensure that the sustainability transition is socially fair and for the benefit of all.


More on SDGs social aspects in the Commission reflection paper: Source: European Union’s progress report-2019 on sustainable development. July 2019. In: 


Environmental issues

The EU institutions and the member states are relying in their SDGs implementation efforts on the Union’s Environment Action Program-2021,  so-called 7th EAP titled “Living well, within the limits of our planet”; the EU Decision from 2013 no. 1386/2013.   


There are the following EU priorities that are generally in line with the Agenda-2030 (although the former was adopted a couple of years before the Agenda): to contribute to EU citizens prosperous life “within the planet's ecological limits”, based on an innovative growth with circular economy and protected biodiversity, restricted environment-related health risks, increasing society's resilience and decoupling growth from extensive use of resources.


The 7th EAP has in fact three thematic research priorities: natural capital, green growth and well-being. Generally, the EU DG Environment’s mission is concentrated on such issues as limiting growth-related environmental pressures, unsustainable trends and present anthropological “foot print” that exceeds the planet “carrying capacity”.  


More in the EU strategic plan for the environment:


The EU states are having “just” a decade to make all necessary changes to implement 17 SDGs; e.g. the EU institutions are already trying to make SDGs an integral part in the states’ governance. Thus, theoretically, member states are able to resolve problems by implementing global and European recommendations to follow most optimal and progressive growth paths. However, national governments have to make specifically nation-adapted solutions stemming from the national political-economy framework.  

Interesting enough that the 2019-SDG international conference (at the end of September in the US) has chosen the following items for discussion: strengthening the research-policy interface for the SDGs; cultures, cities and communities; education for SDGs; and aligning international development with the SDGs. However, in parallel sessions some other issues are included: good practice from the states in general and in food production, energy sector and agriculture, partnerships in society’s engagement, higher education in accelerating SDGs implementation, climate change mitigation and so on. More in:   


Sustainability is both a new and complicated issue for the national governance; alongside educating the public on all “ingredients” in the sustainability (circular economy, green growth and nature protection, to name a few) all states have to develop their own national SDGs implementation plans and strategies. The latter was a strong message from the High-level political forum on sustainable development that took place in July 2019.


No doubt, teaching sustainability will provide additional guidance, knowledge and tools for strengthening the states’ capacities in enhancing national policy coherence in the SDGs implementation, which is the theme of the second article.


More on national governance in OECD paper in    


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