Aligning the agendas of Sustainable Development Goals and the European Environment and Health Process


“There is no ‘Plan B’ for action as there is no ‘Planet B’.”
– Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations at the Climate Summit 2014

The world is entering a crucial phase in the global negotiations of the post-2015 development agenda—the framework following in the footsteps of the Millennium Development Goals concluding next year.  An Open Working Group (OWG), mandated by the UN General Assembly, prepared a report that contains 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, which the General Assembly stated “shall be the main basis for integrating sustainable development goals into the post-2015 development agenda, while recognizing that other inputs will also be considered.”

Following the request of the WHO European Member States participating in the European Environment and Health Process (EHP), a meeting on 30 September 2014 was organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, in close collaboration with WHO headquarters in Geneva, with the aim of aligning the SDGs and EHP agendas.

Representatives from 22 WHO European Member States, international organizations, the OWG, and civil society discussed the regional relevance, accuracy, appropriateness and viability of health- and environment-related goals, targets and indicators.

“‘Better health for Europe, equitable and sustainable’ is our common priority across the 53 Member states of the WHO European Region.”
– Nedret Emiroğlu, Deputy Director DCE, WHO Regional Office for Europe

One of the proposed SDGs is health-specific: “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages”. It is supported by targets covering universal health coverage; noncommunicable diseases; communicable diseases and the reduction of death and illness from hazardous chemicals and polluted air, water and soil.

“There are major opportunities. If you look across all the goals, actually health is integrated into many of them: many of them are environmental and social determinants of health.”
– Professor Sir Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

The development of the SDGs started with the risk factors—the threats, such as climate change and disease—and arrived at a selection of global aspirations which now need to be translated into opportunities. If we properly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy, improve air quality, manage water resources, sanitation and waste, reduce chemical pollution, promote active transport and sustainable consumption, and make cities inclusive, safer and resilient, we will ultimately contribute to improving individual and population health and well-being.

Sustainable development requires a paradigm change to overtly recognize the interdependency of health, wellbeing and environment.  The question is—“How?”

“The business-as-usual scenario tells us we are not going to achieve sustainable development. In order to achieve something close to what we described in terms of SDGs, we need to rethink the roles of the governments and markets. We need to rethink regulations, taxation policies, systems of cooperation; and how we encourage research and development; how we direct government-induced investments; and how we use the science–policy interface.”– HE Csaba Kőrösi, Co-Chair of the Open Working Group

Global pursuit of the SDGs will require implementation to occur at all levels of society and government. The WHO European strategic platform Health 2020 and the Environment and Health Process are in fact structured to address health as the cross-cutting issue and give the unique opportunity for further achievements in the post-2015 development agenda.

“Rio+20 has given us a solid platform to build on. And it has given us the tools to build with.
The work starts now.”
– Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

At the meeting, suggested mechanisms proposed to promote sustainable development in the post-2015 Development Agenda included:

  • Highlighting the economic costs of poor health, in particular, the cost of inaction and the benefit of action;
  • raising awareness, particularly by encouraging a whole-of-society approach;
  • building capacity and carrying out training within the Member States;
  • technical and financial cooperation among the international community and Member States;
  • enhancing cooperation in data collection and processing;
  • enhancing transparency and accountability, particularly regarding access to information to allow the public to engage governments on implementation;
  • increasing need for partnerships and collaboration among sectors, and among Member States and agencies.
Following the meeting,
  • a short summary with key messages and action points will be prepared for the EHP;
  • the results of this discussion will be highlighted at forthcoming global and regional consultations;
  • WHO Regional Office for Europe and its partners will further provide information on the developments to its Member States.