We’re Making Progress On Sustainable Development Goals

A new report titled, Navigating the Structure of Research on Sustainable Development Goals which was recently released by the Institute for Scientific Information reveals how global research and discovery is evolving to address poverty, reduce inequality and deal with the effects of climate change  via the UN Sustainable Development Goals* (SDGs). This is good news.

This is an important report because it provides a unique top-down view on the progress being made towards the 17 global sustainable goals adopted by the UN’s members. 

The data show that there is a dual focus across the research landscape, with the majority of papers published in Environment, Agricultural and Sustainability Science or Health and Healthcare. Many small research areas, such as Water Supply and Sanitation, join the two large domains. These transdisciplinary topics are often of policy interest because they represent opportunities to leverage knowledge in one area that can be applied in another. 

David Pendlebury, Head of Research Analysis at the Institute for Scientific Information says: “The UN Sustainable Development Goals represent some of the biggest challenges humanity faces, from ending poverty to dealing with the effects of climate change, aiming to transform the world in just fifteen years.  

“We have used the data in the Web of Science to confirm that research is being redirected towards these shared goals and identified key themes in global research and discovery. Our analysis will be of interest to policymakers and funders alike in supporting evidence-based decision making.” 

Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta, University of Toronto and Aga Khan University, and 2018 Highly Cited Researcher in Clinical Medicine said: “Academicians and researchers have a special role in advocating for evidence-based strategies and research to help address the aspirational, yet attainable Sustainable Development Goals. This report is an important benchmark in this process.” 

The Results Show 

  • European nations dominate SDG research, with North America and the Asia & Pacific region contributing less, but roughly similar output.  
  • Africa, the Arab States, and Latin America are, by contrast, small participants even though the SDGs are key concerns in these regions. 
  • Research is driven by people. Some of the most influential researchers in driving SDG research are spread across subject areas due to their transdisciplinary knowledge; others show a concentrated depth of focus in one area. 
  • It is not always the largest institutions that set the agenda and pace in a specialty; for example, the key players in Ecosystems Services and Adaptations for Sustainability include Stockholm University and Wageningen University. 
  • Some clusters are growing at twice the average rate of increase in publications during 2015-18, such as Nutrition and Childhood Development. 
  • Some research areas are showing slow growth compared to previous years, such as Ecotourism and Fair Trade. 
  • The report identifies emerging research topics such as Childhood Cancer Incidence. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.