Sustainable Development Goals research speaks to city strengths and priorities

Collaboration between coastal communities and sprawling metropolises helps the drive to meet UN targets.

27 September 2021

Bec Crew

Illustration by Sam Chivers

Published in August, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it clear that the effects of global warming will be felt most acutely by cities — especially those located on the coast. This and other urgent challenges faced by urban centres are laid out by the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this supplement, we explore SDG-related research output by leading science cities and metropolitan areas in the 82 selected natural-sciences journals tracked by the Nature Index.

Our focus on the natural sciences means that some SDGs (related to energy, health care and climate action, for instance) feature more prominently than others (such as gender equality). We concentrate on the ten SDGs for which our data are strongest. (For more information on the analyses used in this article, see ‘A guide to Nature Index’.)

Articles are filtered using SDG-related classifiers available via Digital Science’s Dimensions database. Nature Index’s signature metric, Share, is used to measure cities’ SDG-related article output for the period 2015–20 and for all output in the Nature Index journals in 2020.

Research heavyweights, such as Beijing, the San Francisco Bay Area and the New York metropolitan area, are leaders in SDG-related output.

But there are surprises, too. Townsville, Australia, with a population just short of 200,000, is the second-most prolific city for SDG14 (Life below water), after Beijing. Insights from smaller cities, which have first-hand knowledge of the pressures on vulnerable ecosystems, or that have overcome hardships that the world’s metropolises are yet to face, will be crucial in informing policies and actions that translate to real progress towards SDG targets.

We are pleased to acknowledge the financial support of the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission, Administrative Commission of Zhongguancun Science Park in producing this supplement. As always, Nature retains sole responsibility for all editorial content.

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