Joint Action for Sustainable Development goes live

The 21st Annual Conference of the German Council for Sustainable Development marked the official launch of a new platform project designed to accelerate the transition to sustainability.

“Who has good ideas and solutions and what can everyone else learn and take away from them?” This question, posed by Sarah Ryglewski at the 21st Annual Conference of the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), perfectly encapsulated the motivation behind the Joint Action for Sustainable Development. The Minister of State for Federal-State Relations had stepped in at short notice for Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had come down with Covid, to officially launch this joint federal and Länder initiative. Set up by the RNE, the new platform project aims to “bring together all sustainability activities nationwide, from local initiatives to business and science all the way through to local authorities”, announced Ryglewski.

Together with Hendrik Wüst, Minister-President of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and current Chair of the Conference of Minister-Presidents, Ryglewski symbolically plugged in the web platform that underpins the Joint Action for Sustainable Development. The platform is intended to showcase existing sustainability activities, link up organisations and spark new activities, ultimately helping to achieve the UN’s 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Action weeks, community targets, awards, open social innovation processes and networking events are just some of the tools that will be used to get things moving. Hendrik Wüst offered to organise a networking event for the Joint Action in his state in 2023.

A central role for local governments

Sustainability is the right principle to guide us into a sound future, said RNE Chairman Werner Schnappauf at the annual conference. There is currently more momentum than ever before, in society but also in business. Government policy is setting the course and opening the doors for sustainable development: “But we all need to make our own way through these doors: citizens, local governments, businesses.” Because the success of the transition will be determined locally on the ground, where the citizens actually live; and this is precisely where the Joint Action for Sustainable Development comes into play.

Sarah Ryglewski, too, highlighted the important role of local governments for a sustainable transition as “sustainability experts all over the country”. Shortly before, Markus Lewe, mayor of the city of Münster and President of the Association of German Cities, had said on the same stage: “The city of the future will be a sustainable one – or it will no longer exist.” That makes it right and proper, continued Ryglewski, that the Joint Action’s first main focus areas will be one that is so important to local governments, namely building and housing: “Many local governments are already thinking broadly on this topic and we must ensure that these ideas filter through to the legislation”, she emphasised. With this in mind, an open social innovation process on the area of transformation ‘Sustainable building and housing’ is planned for the coming year in conjunction with the Federal Ministry for Building and under the umbrella of the Joint Action for Sustainable Development. The concept centres around a 48-hour hackathon to develop new ideas, the most promising of which will then be turned into projects.

A learning platform

“This platform won’t stay like this”, predicted Lisi Maier, Director of the Federal Foundation for Gender Equality and RNE member. Rather, it is a learning platform which relies on everyone getting involved. In the subsequent panel discussion, representatives of major associations and foundations spoke about how these bodies can and must contribute to the Joint Action for Sustainable Development.

Thomas Weikert, President of the German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB), for instance, sees it as a great opportunity to put concrete proposals where possible to the 9,000 sports clubs with 25 million members under the DOSB’s umbrella. For example, turning down floodlights and adjusting training times to save energy. This would see these things actually done. Often it just takes a nudge – there’s no shortage of will.

Managing Director of Stiftung KlimaWirtschaft Sabine Nallinger stressed that time is running out for a sustainable transition: “It’s time to turbocharge sociopolitical processes, but also the economy.” The economy is on the brink of a revolution. To reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030 we need new processes and new partnerships: “And because we need to think so big, we’re definitely going to need networks.”

Constantin Terton, head of business, energy and environment at the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH), spoke on behalf of trade and craft enterprises. These are currently at a point where we need to make sure they don’t sustain lasting damage from the present crises. It is a matter of stabilising the small businesses in particular and at the same time making sure they can operate as implementers of sustainability and the energy transition. One of Terton’s great hopes for the web platform, he said, was that it would inspire young people, but also career changers, to take up a trade. “Ultimately, it’s about making something with your hands”, said the ZDH representative. “How do we manage to assemble the photovoltaics, install the heat pumps, co-generate heat and power? You can only do that with people.”

The Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany recently determined its own climate protection guidelines: “We want to become 90 percent climate-neutral by 2035 and 100 percent by 2045”, said Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany Kristina Kühnbaum-Schmidt. “We don’t tend to have such a problem recognising what we could and should do”, she explained, “but we have a problem putting it into practice”. In the afternoon, the topic forums of the annual conference then focussed on how, specifically, the Joint Action for Sustainable Development can be implemented.

Young perspectives and expertise

One of the forums was organised by the representatives of the Youth Conference on Sustainability Policy, which had been held in the run-up, around the topics of creating climate- and eco-friendly structures, ensuring mobility and coming together, making sustainability fair, and education for sustainable development. “Young people are affected by the climate crisis like no generation ever before”, explained the President of the German Federal Youth Council Wendelin Haag. Furthermore, how much knowledge young people can bring to the table has so far been underestimated, pointed out Gülistan Bayan of the Federation of Alevi Youth in Germany (BDAJ). According to Fabian Abel of the German Catholic Youth Federation, sustainability is a major topic across all youth organisations, but it’s the “how” that divides opinion. Young people are way more multifaceted than they are portrayed in the media; that was plain to see at the Youth Conference on Sustainability Policy. What unites them is their collective call to governments to step up the sustainable transition as a matter of urgency. In this spirit, the representatives of the Federal Youth Council took the opportunity to hand over the results of the Youth Conference to the Minister of State.

In her speech, Minister of State Sarah Ryglewski had recalled a statement from the Brundtland Commission that shapes the concept of sustainability to this day: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” There’s no time left to lose on this, she warned: “As we know, the best time to tackle a problem was yesterday.” But the good thing is: “The next best is today, and that’s now.”