Policy Brief // Europe’s contribution to the SDGs via Sustainable Agriculture

Kerry A. Waylen, Kirsty L. Blackstock, Keith B. Matthews, Alba Juarez-Bourke (The James Hutton Institute). This policy brief highlights how actions designed to support the SDGs within the EU may have detrimental consequences outside Europe. This is illustrated through the example of sustainable agriculture, which contributes to several SDGs. It was developed by "MAGIC Nexus", a project by the European Union's Horizon2020 research and innovation program.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set an ambitious programme for the world to achieve by 2030. The European Union presents itself as a forerunner inachieving these, but the adequacy of current EU responses and appraisal of progress has been questioned. The European Union has a long history of supporting Sustainable Development and was instrumental in the UN’s formulation and adoption of the SDGs in 2015. The SDGs were then incorporated within the work plan for the European Commission, who in November 2016 published a Communication on “Next steps for a sustainable European future”. This stated the EU’s commitment to the SDGs and announced initiatives such as a Multi-Stakeholder Platform. Further communications since then include lists of existing EU actions that support the SDGs and an overview of how the SDGs are supported beyond the EU via its development policy. Importantly, 99 indicators (SDIs) have been agreed for appraising progress within Europe: so far these show mostly positive progress.


Key messages

  • To achieve the SDGs, attention is needed to how interventions targeted within the EU affect – and areaffected by – non-EU states. For sustainable agriculture, this may affect definitions and metrics in use, and could be used to improve how agricultural policy supports the SDGs both within and beyond the EU.
  • To understand progress towards sustainable agriculture, use methods like societal metabolism that highlight consequences across the complex ‘nexus’ of environmental, social and economic systems. This can appraise flows of natural, technological and human resources across nested and interlinked systems depend on, with potential to illustrate the distributional effects across space and demographic groups.
  • Given that the Eurostat indicator set of SDIs at present focuses only on trends within the EU, to assess spillover effects we need additional indicators (e.g. perhaps the ratio of imports to total food supply).
  • Overall, our findings reinforce current calls for strategy that provides a comprehensive overview of how EU can support the achievement of the SDGs.



August 2019


© MAGIC Nexus


Kerry A. Waylen, Kirsty L. Blackstock, Keith B. Matthews, Alba Juarez-Bourke (The James Hutton Institute). Europe’s contribution to the SDGs via Sustainable Agriculture.

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