Successful first-ever Virtual Workshop of the ESDN
The 18th Workshop of the European Sustainable Development Network (ESDN), entitled “Achieving the SDGs through a Sustainable and Just Transition: Challenges and responses to Covid-19”, reflected upon how the recovery from Covid-19 can set Europe firmly on the path of sustainable development (SD) and achieve the SDGs. It was organized by the ESDN in cooperation with Romanian Government’s Department of Sustainable Development.
Due to Covid-19 and related travel restrictions throughout Europe, the workshop could not be held in Bucharest, as originally planned, but was hosted virtually – and was thus the first-ever virtual event organized by the ESDN. A total of 92 participants from 22 European countries attended the workshop. Additionally, 3,000 viewers watched the live stream of the workshop via the Facebook page of the Department of Sustainable Development. The recording of the entire workshop can be watched on the ESDN YouTube channel.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only severely affected health sectors all over Europe and the world, but the subsequent shutdowns of the economy have led to a severe economic crisis. As of early July 2020, policymakers had been working on or, in some cases, have already started implementing their country’s recovery plans out of the economic crisis. These plans often include massive stimuli for the economy. As the world is also facing challenges in different aspects of SD, such as inequality, the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, there are strong calls from various parts of society and stakeholder groups for a sustainable recovery from Covid-19.
The workshop featured keynotes from high-level speakers from the European Commission (Adina Vălean, Commissioner for Transport), UNECE (Olga Algayerova, UNECE Executive Secretary and Under-Secretary-General), and the OECD (Tatyana Teplova, Head of Division for Policy Coherence for SDGs at the OECD). In addition, policymakers from various European countries provided detailed insights into the current situation of Covid-19 recovery programs and how the SDGs are being considered or even used as a guideline for the programs’ approach.
From the various keynotes and inputs of the participants, it was interesting to hear that most national Covid-19 recovery programs are responsive to the SDGs. There was a general view by many participants that the relevance of SD in policymaking has not been weakened by Covid-19, but has rather increased, e.g. efforts to “build back better” after Covid-19 are oriented to becoming ‘greener’ (EU’ Green Deal) and more inclusive.
The workshop participants also debated on the question of what is needed to strengthen SD policy after Covid-19. There were five distinctive points that were raised:
One of the most important aspects is to increase policy coherence, i.e. the cooperation and coordination among different sectoral ministries. This is a policy principle or requirement that has a very long tradition in SD policymaking, but the Covid-19 crisis has shown that tackling complex and interwoven policy challenges require strong and effective cooperation.
Other crucial aspects mentioned for strengthening SD were trust, societal cohesion and involvement of concerned stakeholders.
There is currently a strong buy-in for the SDGs as guideline for policymaking after Covid-19 on a theoretical level, but it is not yet clear how this can translate into actual policymaking. Therefore, a toolbox on how to integrate the SDGs in practiceis needed.
What could be witnessed during the times of Covid-19 are the changing the power dynamics. In recent years, policymaking has been increasingly reactive to markets and was not based on science. The trust in science has been revived in the past few months and policy has been very clearly based on science. Therefore, there is now a window of opportunity for more evidence-based and proactive policymaking.
In addition, Covid-19 may ignite thinking about new approaches to design new systems. Achieving the SDGs and developing a more responsive system of inter-connected SD policy goals is very much a design issue and offers the chance for a new design thinking, rather than continuing along well-established, but not effective paths.
A full documentation of this virtual ESDN Workshop can be found on the network’s homepage.