Countries' research priorities in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals

Hugo Confraria, Tommaso Ciarli & Ed Noyons


We analyse the extent to which countries' research priorities align with their greatest SDG challenges and whether misalignments are worse in certain SDGs. We develop a new method to identify research that is related to an SDG by examining research areas in WoS with a higher share of publications that contain text that is related to SDG policy outlets. Then, we use the SDG indicators to create a new score to assess the performance of countries in SDGs in relation to the top performers. We found that most research in the world focuses on issues unrelated to the SDGs and that, within SDG-related research, more than 90% is carried out in high and upper-middle income countries, where SDG challenges tend to be smaller. At the SDG level, our findings indicate a positive relation (alignment) between countries’ research priorities and SDG challenges only for SDG1 (No poverty), SDG2 (Zero hunger), SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation) and SDG9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure); meaning that countries with higher SDG challenges are relatively (or becoming) more involved in research related to those SDGs. For all other SDGs, we found a misalignment or inconclusive relationship between SDG challenges and research prioritisation. A particularly severe misalignment happens in SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production), where the countries that have the most unsustainable consumption/production patterns are high income countries that are not specialized in research related to SDG12.

Keywords: Science, SDGs, Research impact

JEL Classification: O33, O10

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