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Trade, transboundary impacts and the implementation of SDG 12

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posted on 2023-06-12, 09:09 authored by Rob Amos, Emily LydgateEmily Lydgate
The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed to ‘transform our world.’ Yet critics argue that the concept of sustainable development serves to maintain an unsustainable status quo, or provide a positive gloss on a terminal conflict between its ‘pillars’: environmental protection, economic growth and social welfare. In this article, we examine this tension with respect to the implementation of SDG 12 in the European Union. SDG 12 calls for responsible consumption and production, which necessitates reconciling, or ‘decoupling’, economic growth and environmental degradation: the core of sustainable development. Initial examination reveals that the largest implementation gap is among high-consuming countries, including those of the EU, the focus of our article, who are failing to account for transboundary impacts of products consumed domestically. This shortcoming, facilitated by the flexibility of the SDG ‘global target, national action’ approach, undermines the achievement of other environmental SDGs relating to biodiversity and climate, among others. Yet, as compared to other EU approaches to addressing transboundary environmental harm from trade in existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), which we examine, the global focus and breadth of SDG 12 offers transformative potential. Ultimately, even if the three pillars of sustainable development are not ‘rebalanced’ toward environmental conservation, they can provide a construct for examining interactions and trade-offs between goals. Simply taking account of transboundary consumption, as SDG 12 indicators call for, would encourage more effective cooperation to help producing countries address environmental problems that result from production for export through impact assessment and enforcement.


Achieving sustainable trade post-Brexit: the UK and beyond; Sussex Sustainability Research Programme


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Sustainability Science




Springer Verlag

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Article is published as part of Special Feature: Overview Article Exploring Interactions among the Sustainable Development Goals: Case Studies from Three Continents

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