European countries’ progress on key UN environmental goals will face scrutiny at a special two-day forum starting in Geneva today.

17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by world leaders in 2015 and are widely viewed as the global crisis plan to end poverty and protect the planet.

But campaigners fear that if left to their own devices European countries won’t delve into a no-holds-barred review of their progress. They say the role of public interest groups at the forum is crucial to ensure governments are properly taken to account.

Patrizia Heidegger, Director for Global Policies and Sustainability at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:

At international conferences governments have a tendency to just focus on their achievements. This is why the critical eye of civil society will be key at the Geneva forum. Organisations from Lisbon to Vladivostok covering a wide range of issues will scrutinise their governments’ progress towards a sustainable future.

The Regional Forum for Sustainable Development for the UNECE – shorthand for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe which covers countries from both within the EU and beyond, including countries from the Caucasus and Central Asia – will focus on key environmental goals on clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, and protecting the natural environment.

At the Geneva forum public interest groups will meet government representatives for face to face talks on their progress.

Particular attention will be paid to the countries that are set to submit a review of their sustainability progress at a special UN summit (the so-called ‘High Level Political Forum’) that takes place between 9 and 18 July in New York. The countries are Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Greece, Spain, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary, Albania, Armenia, Malta, and Switzerland.

Jouni Nissinen, President of the European Environmental Bureau and Head of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation’s Environmental Policy Unit will be at the Geneva summit. He said:

There’s neither social development nor business on a dead planet. With climate change becoming more and more visible in the everyday lives of all of us, it should be clear that the United Nations system must increasingly pay attention to the nature we depend upon. Unlike in the UN Environment headquarters in Nairobi, this understanding is still somewhat missing in the UN corridors in Geneva and New York. Events like this forum in Geneva are vital for building this understanding among the privileged who don’t feel the impact of environmental change in their lives and turning this understanding into action.”

At the end of last year, EU statistics’ specialists published results on how well governments are doing when it comes to meeting the SDGs but the accuracy of the findings were disputed by campaigners from SDG Watch Europe who described the report as painting a skewed picture of the EU’s performance on how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being implemented across the EU. They said the report falls short on addressing all dimensions of sustainable development and focuses on measuring existing solutions rather than capturing what is needed to fully meet the goals.