Global Data Report Reveals a Redirection of Research Towards the UN’s Shared Sustainable Development Goals

Global Data Report Reveals a Redirection of Research Towards the UN’s Shared Sustainable Development Goals

Web of Science data show the dominance of European research and dual focus of environment and health studies


LONDON, April 1st 2019: A new report released today by the Institute for Scientific Information, part of the Web of Science Group at Clarivate Analytics, 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).

The report, Navigating the Structure of Research on Sustainable Development Goals provides a unique top-down view on the progress being made via global research activity that’s driving progress towards the 17 global sustainable goals adopted by its members. It combines high quality, unbiased data from within the Web of Science citation index with the skilled analysis of the Institute for Scientific Information to inform the work of policymakers, including governments, funders and NGOs.

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 report examines how regions collaborate and provides a thematic map of SDG research. The map reveals clusters of associated research papers and the relation of these clusters to one another. The report identifies the following themes:

  • 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.

Two policy-related clusters are highlighted and explored in depth: Water Supply and Sanitation and Health and Healthcare of Indigenous Peoples. Finally, the activity of the United Kingdom in SDG research receives special attention, including a ranking of research areas in which the UK produces the greatest number of papers and the greatest share of its SDG papers.



*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.


The report can be downloaded from here:


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Amy Bourke-Waite

Director of External Communications



About Web of Science Group

Web of Science Group organizes the world’s research information to enable academia, corporations, publishers and governments accelerate the pace of research.  It is powered by the Web of Science – the world’s largest publisher-neutral citation index and research intelligence platform. Its many well-known brands also include Converis, EndNote, Kopernio, Publons, ScholarOne and the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI).  The ‘university’ of Web of Science Group, ISI maintains the knowledge corpus upon which the index and related information and analytical content and services are built; it disseminates that knowledge externally through events, conferences and publications and it carries out research to sustain, extend and improve the knowledge base. Web of Science Group is a Clarivate Analytics company.


About Clarivate Analytics

Clarivate Analytics is a global leader in providing trusted insights and analytics to accelerate the pace of innovation. Building on a heritage going back more than a century and a half, we have built some of the most trusted brands across the innovation lifecycle, including Web of Science, Cortellis, Derwent, CompuMark, MarkMonitor, and Techstreet. Today, Clarivate Analytics is a new and independent company, on a bold entrepreneurial mission to help our clients radically reduce the time from new ideas to life-changing innovations.


Forward-Looking Statements

This press release and oral statements made with respect to information contained in this release may contain forward-looking statements regarding Clarivate Analytics. Forward-looking statements provide Clarivate Analytics’ current expectations or forecasts of future events and may include statements regarding anticipated synergies and other future expectations. These statements involve risks and uncertainties including factors outside of Clarivate Analytics’ control that may cause actual results to differ materially. Clarivate Analytics undertakes no obligation to update or revise the statements made herein, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

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