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Just 10% of global research output relates to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

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Digital Science, a leading technology company serving emergent needs across the research sector, last week released a report highlighting growth in research around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report, Contextualizing Sustainable Development Research, which was produced by Digital Science’s Consultancy Group led by Dr Juergen Wastl, looks at the state of the world’s research on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It finds that more than 500,000 publications were published in 2019 relating to the 17 SDGs, constituting around 10 percent of the world’s total research output. This is three times the percentage produced in 2000 when the UN introduced the Millenium Development Goals, the predecessors of the SDGs.

The SDGs recognise that ending poverty and other imbalances in society and our relationship with the natural environment 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.

Digital Science’s Consultancy group used the Dimensions platform to analyse research data on the SDGs. The key findings include:

  • 10% of global research output now relates to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • While the US remains the top producer of SDG research, China’s research footprint has grown rapidly and it is now the second largest SDG-research power.
  • India has grown quickly in SDG research, overtaking all the traditionally developed research economies in Europe. It is now in fourth place globally behind the US, China and the UK in SDG research volume.
  • The UK has a more well-rounded or evenly distributed footprint, reminiscent of a larger and more diversified research economy such as the US.
  • The report follows Digital Science’s release of an SDG classification system in its Dimensions platform in March. Research into these areas is critical to help transform the world and each development goal has a list of targets which are measured with indicators. Dimensions users (including free version) can now filter this research in the publications content type.

Daniel Hook, CEO of Digital Science and one of the co-authors of the report, said: “It is at once encouraging and concerning to see 10% of the world’s research volume clustered around SDGs. It has taken more than 20 years of sustainable development initiatives to reach a figure of 10% – the research sector so often leads the way in thinking, in debate and in setting the stage for the informed development of public policy. Yet, with just 10% of research dedicated to this most immediate issue of our time, I wonder if we are equipped to take that lead.

“The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals call on the world’s leaders to look beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in their decision-making processes. As we have demonstrated in our report, Dimensions can support all stakeholders across the international research ecosystem and challenges them to embrace a broader range of research information in their decision making processes.”

What do you think about this? Are you encouraged that research directed towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is on the increase, or is the rate of increase insufficient?

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