PhD in Sustainable Development

Ph.d. curriculum.

The distinctive and innovative nature of this program requires a core set of courses that provide an interdisciplinary grounding. Each of these courses is taught at the level expected of first- or second-year Ph.D. students in the affiliated departments. The course structure is designed to provide students with PhD-level training in economics and a natural science field, complemented by integrative courses in sustainable development designed specifically for this program and courses in social sciences. The course structure combines flexibility to pursue an individual field of study with broad-based skills and knowledge development. The core curriculum consists of around ten core courses, listed below. Students must also complete two social science electives and a coherent sequence of four natural science courses for a minimum total of 60 credits and should maintain an overall B+ average with no lower than a B- in any of the core classes. In addition to course work, students participate in integrative seminars  Sustainable Development Seminar I ( SDEV U9200 ) / Sustainable Development Seminar II ( SDEV U9201 ) throughout the first three years of the program, and complete the MA thesis and take an Orals Exam (leading to the MPhil Degree), in addition to presenting and defending a Ph.D. dissertation.

Due to the unique interdisciplinary content of the program, students entering with a master’s degree earned at Columbia University or elsewhere are still required to complete all MA and MPhil course requirements and examinations.

Advanced Standing for previously held degrees may occasionally be accorded at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) after successfully completing the first year.

Students must select an advisory committee before the end of the fourth semester, ideally earlier, with the help and approval of the DGS and Program Faculty. The committee ideally comprises 2 to 3 members, one of whom is the academic advisor and must be a member of the SIPA faculty. The remaining advisors can be from other Columbia University schools and departments or from other universities. An advisor from a different university cannot be the main academic advisor. The advisory committee should include faculty whose expertise covers both the social and natural sciences.

For the first year or (at most) two academic years, the DGS will have the role of academic advisor. The role of the advisor is to guide and monitor research progress, including reporting to GSAS on the progress of the student, sitting in on Orals and Defense committees, and other associated duties .

Service Requirements

In addition to completing the requirements for the MA and the MPhil, students have to fulfill a teaching and research requirement. This entails six semesters of work as a teaching fellow (TF) or a graduate research fellow (GRF), as assigned by the director of the program. Students typically serve as TFs in SIPA master-level courses as well as a few undergraduate courses. Students who secure external fellowship funding may reduce this requirement with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. Still, in all cases, every student must TA at least two semesters .

The Ph.D. in sustainable development is designed and supported as a five-year program. It is recognized that some students may need to extend their studies for all or part of a sixth year. While this can be accommodated administratively, students cannot assume that funds will be available to support the sixth year of study, and they are urged to make efforts to secure fellowship support or obtain funds through their advisors or from outside sources. Sixth-year extensions may be granted as exceptions and must not be assumed.

John Mutter , Professor  Director of the Ph.D. in Sustainable Development [email protected]

Tomara Aldrich Program Coordinator for the Ph.D. in Sustainable Development  [email protected]

John Mutter , Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and of International and Public Affairs; Director of the PhD in Sustainable Development program

Douglas Almond , Professor of International and Public Affairs and of Economics

Scott Barrett , Lenfest-Earth Institute Professor of Natural Resource Economics

Geoffrey Heal , Donald C. Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise in the Faculty of Business and Professor of International and Public Affairs

Cristian Pop-Eleches , Professor of International and Public Affairs

Jeffrey Sachs , Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development; Professor of Health Policy and Management; Director of the Earth Institute

Wolfram Schlenker , Professor of International and Public Affairs

Jeffrey Shrader , Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs

Rodrigo Soares , Lemann Professor of Brazilian Public Policy and International and Public Affairs

Joseph Stiglitz , University Professor

Requirements for the MA Degree

Sustainable development courses.

These courses are designed and taught specifically for the PhD students in Sustainable Development, although they may be open to students from other programs.

Core Economics Courses

All core economics courses are taught in the Economics Department and are drawn from the Economics PhD syllabus. More information about these courses can be found from the Economics department Web site .

Social Science Courses

Students must take at least 3 social science courses. 

Natural Sciences Courses

Students must also take 3 natural science electives drawn from the following departments:

Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B)

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES)

Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) at the Mailman School of Public Health

Department of Earth and Environmental Engineerin g (DEEE) at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS)

The master’s thesis should be completed by May 1 in the fourth semester and should address a problem in sustainable development using data and methodologies from the four natural science courses completed in the first two years of the program. The thesis consists of an article (around 30 pages long), which would be publishable in an appropriately refereed academic journal reflecting the disciplinary orientation of the project.  Students should submit the Masters paper to their research advisor(s) with a copy to the DGS. The advisor later meets with the student and submits a pass/fail grade to the Assistant DGS for processing. For titles of MA thesis projects previously completed by students in the program please see here .

Requirements for the MPhil Degree

Completion of the MA requirements with a minimum of 60 credits and a B+ average.

Complete 4 out of 6 semesters of service requirements (Teaching Assistant, TA or Research Assistant, RA appointments) . Students with outside funding need to complete a minimum of 2 TA appointments.

Fulfillment of research tools requirement

Core courses in quantitative methods (Introduction to Econometrics I and II, and a third Quantitative Analysis course).

Either a two-course sequence in GIS or other analytic modeling systems or a proficiency examination in a non-English language, as selected with the approval of the academic adviser.

Submission of a final draft of the dissertation prospectus , approved by the adviser, to the MPhil Examining Committee three weeks prior to the MPhil examinations. The prospectus should:

be a single, 10-page document

be distinct from the Master’s thesis though it can build on similar research

cover the methods and objective of the research project

Two-hour long oral exam designed to examine the candidates’ formal learning and their capability to do independent research, including the presentation of a dissertation prospectus/proposal. The examination committee will consist of three faculty members, normally from the Sustainable Development core faculty, and will be chaired by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), who will lead the discussion of the prospectus. Examinations are conducted as follows:

5 minutes: the candidate will give a formal presentation of the prospectus

30 minutes: all members of the examining committee, led by the DGS, will ask questions.

30 minutes: examination of proficiency in fields most relevant to the proposed research, from within the following subjects:

Natural Science

Sustainable Development

(Optional) An elective field, such as study of a region

Each component will be graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. If the average grade is 3.5 or above the student receives a clear pass. If the average grade is below 3.0 the student will be required to leave the program by the end of the current semester. If the average grade is between 3.0 and 3.5 or if any individual grade is below 3.0 the committee require the student to take further courses, revise their prospectus, or provide a revised research paper.

Requirements for the PhD Degree

Phd dissertation.

The PhD dissertation will be on a social science topic in sustainable development. The social science research will be informed by an understanding of physical and natural science constraints and opportunities influencing economic development.

Students with a regional area of interest to their dissertation may wish to do research abroad, so as to conduct field studies, use archives, improve language skills, or confer with local experts. In order that students may complete the PhD program without delay, it is preferred that they make use of summers to conduct such research. Students who feel they require a longer period of field research or language training need the approval of their advisor, and of the DGS. Students may not receive extended residence credit for study or research away from Columbia before the completion of all course work requirements and comprehensive examinations.

PhD Defense

Complete the GSAS deposit application and pay the $85 processing fee;

Submit the required Survey of Earned Doctorates online;

Upload and submit a PDF copy of your dissertation;

Obtain a signed Approval Card that certifies you have made all required revisions and that the dissertation has been approved for deposit by your sponsor and by your doctoral program.

Open defenses (optional)

If both the candidate for a defense and the Advisory Committee choose to have an “open” defense, the following will apply:

The candidate will have a maximum of 40 minutes to present major conclusions of the thesis research, with at least half of the time devoted to a description of new findings or insights in the field discussed that directly resulted from research by the student.

 Any member of the University community or other interested parties can attend the first part of the thesis defense.

Questions following the initial presentation are permitted for a maximum of 10 minutes.

Following the oral presentation by the candidate and the brief period for general questions, the defense committee will question the candidate in closed session for a period of up to 90 minutes.

If either the candidate or the Advisory Committee prefer, the procedures for “closed defense” (i.e., 20-minute oral presentation followed by questions from the defense committee in closed session for a period of up to 90 minutes) will be followed.

Candidates must consult with their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies about scheduling the defense. Every Ph.D. student must submit the Intent to Distribute and Defend form directly to GSAS.

The final examination will not be scheduled until the Director of Graduate Studies has recommended the dissertation for defense. A five-person examining committee will be appointed by the department and must be approved by GSAS. The DGS will then officially invite the examiners.

The Application for Defense must be completed by the Candidate and the Director of Graduate Studies and submitted by the program’s office to the GSAS Dissertation office.

Members of the PhD examining committee must be given a minimum of three weeks to read the thesis, so the defense may comfortably be scheduled after submission of the thesis to the Advisory Committee. Before being recommended for defense, the candidate must submit to his/her Advisory Committee draft copies of the thesis, including figures, plates and tables and obtain the Advisory Committee’s written approval of the draft. (Written approval by the Advisory Committee indicates only that the thesis as it stands or with revisions suggested by them is in good enough form to justify scheduling the defense.)

After the Advisory Committee has given its preliminary approval in writing, and the candidate has made any revisions suggested by them, he/she must distribute copies of the dissertation to the external readers. Instructions for the correct form for preparing the manuscript and information on publication options may be obtained via the Graduate School’s website ( )

The candidate must see that outstanding fees or loans to the University are paid and make sure that he/she has fulfilled all other Departmental requirements. When these requirements have been fulfilled and the examining committee has been appointed by the DGS, the candidate is notified of the examination date, usually about two weeks in advance.

After passing the final examination, the candidate must see to any minor revisions and their approval by the examining committee before final deposit. If major revisions were called for (a defense-vote of “incomplete”), these must be made and submitted within a stated period (usually no fewer than three months and no longer than one year from the date of the defense) to the supervising committee, whose approval will have to be certified in writing before the candidate can be recorded as having passed the final examination. From the time of the “pass” vote, the student has a maximum of six months to deposit the thesis. There are four steps to completing your deposit -- the steps can be done in any order, but your deposit is only considered complete when all four steps are done.

Doctorate degrees are awarded in October, February, and May. Check the academic calendar for specific deadlines for the final deposit of the dissertation. (You may, however, call yourself “Dr.” as of the day of your deposit, since that date will appear on your official transcript.)

PhD in Sustainable Development Courses

SDEV U6240 Environmental Science for Sustainable Development. 3.00 Points.

Category: EE, EPD:Sustainable

This course provides a rigorous survey of the key areas of natural science that are critical to understanding sustainable development. The course will provide the theories, methodological techniques and applications associated with each natural science unit presented. The teaching is designed to ensure that students have the natural science basis to properly appreciate the co-dependencies of natural and human systems, which are central to understanding sustainable development. Students will learn the complexities of the interaction between the natural and human environment. After completing the course, students should be able to incorporate scholarly scientific work into their research or policy decisions and be able to use scientific methods of data analysis. This is a modular course that will cover core thematic areas specifically, climate, natural hazards, water management, public health/epidemiology, and ecology/biodiversity. To achieve coherence across lectures this course will emphasize how each topic is critical to studies of sustainable development and place-based case studies in recitation will integrate various topics covered. In the lectures and particularly the recitation sections this course will emphasize key scientific concepts such as uncertainty, experimental versus observational approaches, prediction and predictability, the use of models and other essential methodological aspects

SDEV U9200 Sustainable Development Seminar I. 1.50 Point.

This course is restricted to PhD in Sustainable Development

SDEV U9201 Sustainable Development Seminar II. 1.50 Point.

SDEV U9240 Human Ecology & Sustainable Development. 4.00 Points.

Category: EPD:Sustainable, PhD in Sustainable Development Open to PhD Students Only

This course has two primary objectives: first, to provide a structured way to think about—and conduct research in—the field of sustainable development. Second, to introduce formal models of dynamic, coupled human and environmental systems

SDEV U9245 Environment & Resource Economics. 3.00 Points.

This course aims to introduce you to the basic concepts of environmental economics

SDEV U9248 Collective Action for Global Sustainable Development. 3.00 Points.

Category: PhD in Sustainable Development Registration restricted to PhD Students

When externalities go uncorrected, and public goods go undersupplied, the reason is not that the market fails; the reason is that governments are unable or unwilling to intervene effectively. The biggest problem is with transnational externalities and regional and global public goods. This is partly because of the scale of these problems, but it is also because the institutional arrangements at this level make effective intervention difficult. There is no World Government. Instead, there are around 200 sovereign states. To support sustainable development globally, states must cooperate, and yet states' self-interests often conflict with their collective interests. This is why all countries agree that collective action must be taken to limit climate change, and yet, though they try and try again, countries seem unable to muster the individual action needed to meet their own collective goal. The aim of this course is to develop an apparatus for understanding international collective action for sustainable development. By an apparatus, I mean a theory, a structured way of looking at and understanding the world. Rather than just present the theory, my aim is to show you why theory is needed, how it has been constructed, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. Basically, in addition to teaching you principles and tools, I want you to come to see how this field has developed, what it has achieved, and where it has fallen short. Throughout the course, we shall also be looking at tests and applications of the theory-empirical and experimental papers in addition to case studies. The course draws from a number of disciplines, especially economics, game theory (analytical and experimental), and international relations-but also international law, philosophy, history, the natural and physical sciences, and engineering. The focus will be on institutions, and the way that they restructure the relations among states to cause states to behave differently-that is, to cause them to undertake collective action. In terms of applications, the course will address not only climate change but also depletion of the ozone layer, trans-boundary air pollution, pollution of the oceans, over-fishing, biodiversity loss, and the emergence and spread of infectious diseases


Prerequisites: the director of graduate studies' permission. Corequisites: ECON G6410. Consumer and producer behavior; general competitive equilibrium, welfare and efficiency, behavior under uncertainty, intertemporal allocation and capital theory, imperfect competition, elements of game theory, problems of information, economies with price rigidities


Prerequisites: the director of graduate studies permission. Corequisites: ECON G6410. Consumer and producer behavior; general competitive equilibrium, welfare and efficiency, behavior under uncertainty, intertemporal allocation and capital theory, imperfect competition, elements of game theory, problems of information, economies with price rigidities


Corequisites: ECON G6410 and the director of graduate studies' permission. Introduction to probability theory and statistical inference


Corequisites: ECON G6410 and the director of graduate studies permission. Introduction to the general linear model and its use in econometrics, including the consequences of departures from the standard assumptions

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Understanding and applying the concept of sustainable development to transportation planning and decision-making in the U.S.


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phd thesis on sustainable development

Doctor of Philosophy in sustainability

About the doctor of philosophy degree.

The PhD in sustainability, offered only on ASU’s Tempe campus, engages scientists and leaders in research to investigate the urgent sustainability challenges of this century.

The flexible, interdisciplinary nature of the program allows students to focus on problems of interest to them, drawing upon relevant knowledge from a variety of disciplines.

Students may be admitted to the PhD program with either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution or the equivalent of a US bachelor’s degree from an international institution officially recognized by that country.

Learning outcomes

PhD graduates will have an advanced understanding of the dynamics of coupled socioecological systems and will be able to lead others in research and providing adaptive solutions to specific sustainability challenges. In addition to the common learning outcomes, PhD students will be able to:

  • Understand the concepts and methods of a number of critical disciplines bearing on the sustainability of systems at different spatio-temporal scales.
  • Lead others in applying these concepts and methods to developing sustainable strategies for water, land, air, and urban management at the local and global level.
  • Lead others in the analysis and design of the built environment and institutions’ policies, regulations, and technologies to support sustainable development.

Requirements and electives

Courses and electives, core courses.

  • SOS 510 – Perspectives on Sustainability
  • SOS 520 – Research Design
  • SOS 525 – Social-Ecological-Technical Systems: Domains & Interfaces
  • SOS 589 – Community of Scholars (taken twice)

Solutions workshops

Solutions workshops are listed under SOS 594 and are designed to provide students with experience solving real-world problems that involve multiple sustainability challenges. As such, they will be problem-based and not specifically attached to one of the main themes.

Some example workshops include:

  • SOS 594 – Sustainability Short Form Documentary
  • SOS 594 – Sustainable Development in Action
  • SOS 594 – Sustainable Neighborhoods for Happiness
  • SOS 594 – Urban Sustainability – Best Practices/Case Studies
  • SOS 594 – Operationalizing Corporate Sustainability through ESG Programs

Elective courses

Students may choose courses from any discipline at ASU that relate to their research project or dissertation. Electives must be approved by a student’s supervisory committee.

Research and dissertation

At least 12 credits of the approved PhD program of study must be SOS 792 Research and at least 12 credits must be SOS 799 Dissertation. After completion of the dissertation, the student must pass an oral examination in defense of the dissertation.

  • SOS 792 – Research
  • SOS 799 – Dissertation

Exams and Dissertation

When students have completed the coursework, they must pass a comprehensive examination and begin a prospectus (proposal) for their dissertation. After passing the prospectus defense, students enter candidacy. The culminating experience for the doctoral degree program is publication of the dissertation, accompanied by a dissertation defense. The non-coursework portion of the program usually lasts 2 years.

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Research Article

Impact of the Sustainable Development Goals on the academic research agenda. A scientometric analysis

Roles Conceptualization, Investigation, Supervision, Validation, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Research Institute on Policies for Social Transformation, Universidad Loyola Andalucía, Córdoba, Spain

Roles Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Supervision, Validation, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Public Policy Observatory, Universidad Autónoma de Chile, Santiago, Chile

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Department of Finance and Accounting, Universidad Loyola Andalucía, Córdoba, Spain

ORCID logo

Roles Conceptualization, Investigation, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Social Matters Research Group, Universidad Loyola Andalucía, Córdoba, Spain

  • Antonio Sianes, 
  • Alejandro Vega-Muñoz, 
  • Pilar Tirado-Valencia, 
  • Antonio Ariza-Montes


  • Published: March 17, 2022
  • Peer Review
  • Reader Comments

Table 1

Today, global challenges such as poverty, inequality, and sustainability are at the core of the academic debate. This centrality has only increased since the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whose scope is to shift the world on to a path of resilience focused on promoting sustainable development. The main purpose of this paper is to develop a critical yet comprehensive scientometric analysis of the global academic production on the SDGs, from its approval in 2015 to 2020, conducted using Web of Science (WoS) database. Despite it being a relatively short period of time, scholars have published more than five thousand research papers in the matter, mainly in the fields of green and sustainable sciences. The attained results show how prolific authors and schools of knowledge are emerging, as key topics such as climate change, health and the burden diseases, or the global governance of these issues. However, deeper analyses also show how research gaps exist, persist and, in some cases, are widening. Greater understanding of this body of research is needed, to further strengthen evidence-based policies able to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the SDGs.

Citation: Sianes A, Vega-Muñoz A, Tirado-Valencia P, Ariza-Montes A (2022) Impact of the Sustainable Development Goals on the academic research agenda. A scientometric analysis. PLoS ONE 17(3): e0265409.

Editor: Stefano Ghinoi, University of Greenwich, UNITED KINGDOM

Received: September 10, 2021; Accepted: March 1, 2022; Published: March 17, 2022

Copyright: © 2022 Sianes et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: All relevant data are within the manuscript and its Supporting Information files.

Funding: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

1. Introduction

1.1. from the millennium agenda to the 2030 agenda and the sustainable development goals (sdgs).

To track the origins of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must recall the Millennium Agenda, which was the first global plan focused on fighting poverty and its more extreme consequences [ 1 ]. Approved in 2000, its guiding principle was that northern countries should contribute to the development of southern states via Official Development Assistance (ODA) flows. The commitment was to reach 0.7% of donors’ gross domestic product [ 2 ] to reduce poverty by half by 2015. The relative failure to reach this goal and the consolidation of a discourse of segregation between northern and southern countries [ 3 ] opened the door to strong criticism of the Millennium Agenda. Therefore, as 2015 approached, there were widespread calls for a profound reformulation of the system [ 4 ].

The world in 2015 was very different from that in the early 2000s. Globalization had reached every corner of the world, generating development convergence between countries but increasing inequalities within countries [ 5 , 6 ]. Increasing interest in the environmental crisis and other global challenges, such as the relocation of work and migration flows, consolidated a new approach to development and the need of a more encompassed agenda [ 7 ]. This new agenda was conceived after an integrating process that involved representatives from governments, cooperation agencies, nongovernmental organisations, global business, and academia. The willingness of the 2030 Agenda to ‘leave no one behind’ relies on this unprecedented global commitment by the international community [ 8 ].

As a result of this process, in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the document “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” [ 9 ], later known as the 2030 Agenda. This new global agenda is an all-comprising strategy that seeks to inform and orient public policies and private interventions in an extensive range of fields, from climate change to smart cities and from labour markets to birth mortality, among many others.

The declared scope of the Agenda is to shift the world on to a path of resilience focused on promoting sustainable development. To do so, the 2030 Agenda operates under the guidance of five principles, formally known as the ‘5 Ps’: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships [ 10 ]. With these pivotal concepts in mind, the Agenda has established a total of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 specific targets to be pursued in a 15-year period, which reflects the scale and profound ambition of this new Agenda.

The SDGs do not only address what rich countries should do for the poor but rather what all countries should do together for the global well-being of this and future generations [ 4 ]. Thus, the SDGs cover a much broader range of issues than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals [ 11 ], and are intended to be universal on the guidance towards a new paradigm of sustainable development that the international community has been demanding since the 1992 Earth Summit [ 7 , 12 , 13 ].

Despite this potential, some criticise their vagueness, weakness, and unambitious character. Fukuda-Parr [ 14 ], see weaknesses on the simplicity of the SDGs, which can lead to a very narrow conception that reduces the integral concept of development. The issue of measurement is also problematic; for some researchers, the quantification of objectives not only reduces their complexity, but leads to them being carried out without considering the interdependencies between the objectives [ 12 , 13 ]. Other authors have identified difficulties associated with specifying some of the less visible, intangible aspects of their qualitative nature such as inclusive development and green growth [ 14 , 15 ]. Finally, Stafford-Smith et al. [ 16 ] state that their successful implementation also requires paying greater attention to the links across sectors, across societal actors and between and among low-, medium-, and high-income countries.

Despite these criticisms, the SDGs have undoubtedly become the framework for what the Brundtland report defined as our common future. Unlike conventional development agendas that focus on a restricted set of dimensions, the SDGs provide a holistic and multidimensional view of development [ 17 ]. In this line, Le Blanc [ 12 ] concludes that the SDGs constitute a system with a global perspective; because they consider the synergies and trade-offs between the different issues involved in sustainable development, and favour comprehensive thinking and policies.

1.2. Towards a categorization of the SDGs

There is an underlying lack of unanimity in the interpretation of the SDGs, which has given rise to alternative approaches that allow categorizing the issues involved in their achievement without losing sight of the integral vision of sustainable development [ 15 , 18 – 23 ]. However, such categorization of the SDGs makes it possible to approach them in a more holistic and integrated way, focusing on the issues that underlie sustainable development and on trying to elucidate their connections.

Among the many systematization proposals, and following the contributions of Hajer et al. [ 19 ], four connected perspectives can strengthen the universal relevance of the SDGs: a) ‘planetary boundaries’ that emphasize the urgency of addressing environmental concerns and calling on governments to take responsibility for global public goods; b) ‘The safe and just operating space’ to highlight the interconnectedness of social and environmental issues and their consequences for the redistribution of wealth and human well-being; c) ‘The energetic society’ that avoids the plundering of energy resources; and d) ‘green competition’ to stimulate innovation and new business practices that limit the consumption of resources.

Planetary boundaries demand international policies that coordinate efforts to avoid overexploitation of the planet [ 24 ]. Issues such as land degradation, deforestation, biodiversity loss and natural resource overexploitation exacerbate poverty and deepen inequalities [ 21 , 25 – 27 ]. These problems are further compounded by the increasing impacts of climate change with clear ramifications for natural systems and societies around the globe [ 21 , 28 ].

A safe and just operating space implies social inclusivity that ensures equity principles for sharing opportunities for development [ 15 , 29 ]. Furthermore, it requires providing equitable access to effective and high-quality preventive and curative care that reduces global health inequalities [ 30 , 31 ] and promotes human well-being. Studies such as that of Kruk et al. [ 32 ] analyse the reforms needed in health systems to reduce mortality and the systemic changes necessary for high-quality care.

An energetic society demands global, regional and local production and consumption patterns as demands for energy and natural resources continue to increase, providing challenges and opportunities for poverty reduction, economic development, sustainability and social cohesion [ 21 ].

Finally, green competition establishes limits to the consumption of resources, engaging both consumers and companies [ 22 ] and redefining the relationship between firms and their suppliers in the supply chain [ 33 ]. These limits must also be introduced into life in cities, fostering a new urban agenda [ 34 , 35 ]. Poor access to opportunities and services offered by urban centres (a function of distance, transport infrastructure and spatial distribution) is a major barrier to improved livelihoods and overall development [ 36 ].

The diversification of development issues has opened the door to a wide range of new realities that must be studied under the guiding principles of the SDGs, which involve scholars from all disciplines. As Saric et al. [ 37 ] claimed, a shift in academic research is needed to contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. The identification of critical pathways to success based on sound research is needed to inform a whole new set of policies and interventions aimed at rendering the SDGs both possible and feasible [ 38 ].

1.3. The relevance and impact of the SDGs on academic research

In the barely five years since their approval, the SDGs have proven the ability to mobilize the scientific community and offer an opportunity for researchers to bring interdisciplinary knowledge to facilitate the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda [ 21 ]. The holistic vision of development considered in the SDGs has impacted very diverse fields of knowledge, such as land degradation processes [ 25 , 26 ], health [ 39 ], energy [ 40 ] and tourism [ 41 ], as well as a priori further disciplines such as earth observation [ 42 ] and neurosurgery [ 43 ]. However, more importantly, the inevitable interdependencies, conflicts and linkages between the different SDGs have also emerged in the analyses, highlighting ideas such as the need for systemic thinking that considers the spatial and temporal connectivity of the SDGs, which calls for multidisciplinary knowledge. According to Le Blanc [ 12 ], the identification of the systemic links between the objectives can be a valuable undertaking for the scientific community in the coming years and sustainable development.

Following this line, several scientific studies have tried to model the relationships between the SDGs in an attempt to clarify the synergies between the objectives, demonstrating their holistic nature [ 12 , 17 , 20 , 44 , 45 ]. This knowledge of interdependencies can bring out difficulties and risks, or conversely the drivers, in the implementation of the SDGs, which will facilitate their achievement [ 22 ]. In addition, it will allow proposing more transformative strategies to implement the SDG agenda, since it favours an overall vision that is opposed to the false illusion that global problems can be approached in isolation [ 19 ].

The lack of prioritisation of the SDGs has been one of the issues raised regarding their weakness, which should also be addressed by academics. For example, Gupta and Vegelin [ 15 ] analyse the dangers of inclusive development prioritising economic issues, relegating social or ecological inclusivity to the background, or the relational aspects of inclusivity that guarantee the existence of laws, policies and global rules that favour equal opportunities. Holden et al. [ 46 ] suggest that this prioritisation should be established according to three moral criteria: the satisfaction of human needs, social equity and respect for environmental limits. These principles must be based on ethical values that, according to Burford et al. [ 47 ], constitute the missing pillar of sustainability. In this way, the ethical imperatives of the SDGs and the values implicit in the discourses on sustainable development open up new possibilities for transdisciplinary research in the social sciences [ 46 , 47 ].

Research on SDG indicators has also been relevant in the academic world, as they offer an opportunity to replace conventional progress metrics such as gross domestic product (GDP) with other metrics more consistent with the current paradigm of development and social welfare that takes into account such aspects as gender equality, urban resilience and governance [ 20 , 48 ].

The study of the role of certain development agents, including companies, universities or supranational organisations, also opens up new areas of investigation for researchers. Some studies have shown the enthusiastic acceptance of the SDGs by companies [ 22 , 49 ]. For Bebbington and Unerman [ 50 ], the study of the role of organisations in achieving the SDGs should be centred around three issues: challenging definitions of entity boundaries to understand their full impacts, introducing new conceptual frameworks for analysis of the context within which organisations operate and re-examining the conceptual basis of justice, responsibility and accountability. On the other hand, the academic community has recognized that knowledge and education are two basic pillars for the transition towards sustainable development, so it may also be relevant to study the responsibility of higher education in achieving the SDGs [ 47 , 50 ]. Institutional sustainability and governance processes are issues that should be addressed in greater depth through research [ 47 ].

Finally, some authors have highlighted the role of information technologies (ICT) in achieving the SDGs [ 23 ] and their role in addressing inequality or vulnerability to processes such as financial exclusion [ 51 ], which opens up new avenues for research.

Despite this huge impact of the SDGs on academic research, to the best of our knowledge, an overall analysis of such an impact to understand its profoundness and capillarity is missing in the literature. To date, reviews have focused on the implementation of specific SDGs [ 52 – 61 ], on specific topics and collectives [ 62 – 70 ], on traditional fields of knowledge, now reconsidered in light of the SDGs [ 71 – 73 ] and on contributions from specific regions or countries [ 74 , 75 ]. By relying on scientometric techniques and data mining analyses, this paper collects and analyses the more than 5,000 papers published on the SDGs to pursue this challenging goal and fill this knowledge gap.

This article aims to provide a critical review of the scientific research on SDGs, a concept that has emerged based on multiple streams of thinking and has begun to be consolidated as of 2015. As such, global references on this topic are identified and highlighted to manage pre-existing knowledge to understand relationships among researchers and with SDG dimensions to enhance the presently dispersed understanding of this subject and its areas of further development. A scientometric meta-analysis of publications on SDGs is conducted to achieve this objective. Mainstream journals from the Web of Science (WoS) are used to identify current topics, the most involved journals, the most prolific authors, and the thematic areas around which the current academic SDG debate revolves.

Once Section 1 has revised on the related literature to accomplish the main objective, Section 2 presents the research methodology. Section 3 presents the main results obtained, and Section 4 critically discusses these results. The conclusion and the main limitations of the study are presented in Section 5.

2. Materials and methods

In methodological terms, this research applies scientometrics as a meta-analytical means to study the evolution of documented scientific knowledge on the Sustainable Development Goals [ 76 – 81 ], taking as a secondary source of information academic contributions (i.e. articles, reviews, editorials, etc.) indexed in the Web of Science (WoS). To ensure that only peer-reviewed contributions authored by individual researchers are retrieved and that such publications have a worldwide prestige assessment, all of them should be published on journals indexed in the Journal Citation Report (JCR), either as part of the Sciences Citation Index Expanded or the Social Sciences Citation Index [ 82 – 84 ].

Following the recommendations of previous studies [ 85 ], it was decided to apply the next search vector from 2015 to 2020 to achieve the research objectives TS = (Sustainable NEAR/0 Development NEAR/0 Goals), which allows the extraction of data with 67 fields for each article registered in WoS.

As the first step, to give meaning to subsequent analyses, we tested the presence of exponential growth in the production of documented knowledge that allows a continuous renewal of knowledge [ 76 , 86 ].

As a second action, given the recent nature of the subject studied, it is of interest to map the playing field [ 87 ] using VOSviewer software version 1.6.16 [ 88 ], to know which topics are most addressed in the matter of SDGs. This analysis seeks an approach, both through the concentration of Keyword Plus® [ 89 ] and by analysing the references used as input in the production of knowledge, which can be treated as cocitations, coupling-citations and cross-citations [ 90 ], using the h-index, in citation terms, as discriminant criteria in the selection of articles [ 91 – 93 ]. This methodology will allow us to establish production, impact and relationship metrics [ 80 , 85 , 87 , 94 , 95 ].

Finally, it is of interest to explore the possible concentrations that may arise. Using Lotka’s Law, we estimated the possible prolific authors and their areas of work in SDGs, and using Bradford’s Law, we conducted a search of a possible adjustment to a geometric series of the concentration zones of journals and therefore a potential nucleus where a profuse discussion on SDGs is taking place [ 96 – 100 ].

3.1. Configuration of the academic production on SDGs

The results present a total of 5,281 articles for a period of six years (2015–2020) in 1,135 journals, with over 60% of these documents published in the last two years. The total of articles is distributed among authors affiliated with 7,418 organisations from 181 countries/regions, giving thematic coverage to 183 categories of the Journal Citation Report-Web of Science (JCR-WoS). Table 1 shows the distribution among the top ten JCR-WoS categories, highlighting the prevalence of journals indexed in green and environmental sciences and, thus, in the Science Index-Expanded.


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3.2. Existence of research critical mass

Fig 1 shows the regression model for the period 2015–2020, the last year with complete records consolidated in the Web of Science. The results obtained show significant growth in the number of studies on SDGs, with an R 2 adjustment greater than 96%. The exponential nature of the model shows that a ‘critical mass’ is consolidating around the research on this topic, as proposed by the Law of Exponential Growth of Science over Time [ 76 ], which in some way gives meaning to this research and to obtaining derived results.


3.3. Establishment of concentrations

In accordance with Lotka’s Law, 22,336 authors were identified of the 5,281 articles under study. From this author set, 136 (≈sqrt (22,336)) are considered prolific authors with a contribution to nine or more works. However, a second restriction, even more demanding, is to identify those prolific authors who are also prolific in contemporary terms. Although SDG studies are recent, the growth production rates are extremely high. As previously shown, for the period 2015–2020, 64% of the publications are concentrated between 2019–2020. Based on this second restriction, for 3,400 articles of the 5,281 articles published in 2019 and 2020, and a total of 15,120 authors, only eight prolific authors manage to sustain a publication number that equals or exceeds nine articles. These authors are listed and characterized in Table 2 .


The analysis shown in Table 2 highlights the University of Washington’s participation in health issues with Murray and Hay (coauthors of eight articles in the period 2019–2020), who are also important in the area of health for the prolific authors Yaya and Bhutta. The environmental SDGs mark a strong presence with Abhilash, Leal-Filho and Kalin. The affiliation of Abhilsash (Banaras Hindu University) is novel, as it is not part of the classic world core in knowledge production that is largely concentrated in the United States and Europe. It is worth noting that other prolific authors belong to nonmainstream knowledge production world areas, such as Russia or Pakistan. Professor Alola also deserves mention; not only is he the only contemporary prolific author producing in the area of economics, but he is also producing knowledge in Turkey.

In the same way, at the journal level, the potential establishment of concentration areas and determination of a deep discussion nucleus are analysed using Bradford’s law.

With a percentage error of 0.6%, between the total journal number and the total journal number estimated by the Bradford series, the database shows a core of 18 journals (2%) where one in three articles published are concentrated (see Table 3 ).


Regarding the number of contributions by journal, Sustainability has the largest number of studies on SDGs, in which 689 (13%) of the 5,281 articles studied are concentrated. The Journal of Cleaner Production, indexed to WoS categories related to Environmental SDGs, is the second most prominent journal, with 2.7% participation of the articles (147). Both journals are followed by the multidisciplinary journal Plos One, with 2.2% of the total dataset. In terms of impact factor, the 60 points of the health journal The Lancet are superlative in the whole, which in the other cases ranges between 2.000 and 7.246. As shown in Table 4 , we have developed a “Prominence ranking” by weighting article production by impact factor. This metric shows The Lancet, with only 40 articles on SDGs, as the most relevant journal, followed by Sustainability, which becomes relevant due to the high number of publications (689) despite an impact factor of 2.576. These journals are followed by the Journal of Cleaner Production with 147 articles and an impact factor of 7.246.


3.4. Thematic coverage

Concerning the thematic coverage, Fig 2A and 2B show a diversity of 7,003 Keyword Plus® (KWP), consistently connected to a total of 7,141 KWP assigned by Clarivate as metadata to the set of 5,281 articles studied, which presents a strong concentration in a small number of terms (red colour in the heat map generated with VOSviewer version 1.6.16).


a) Keywords Plus® heatmap and b) heat map zoom to highlight the highest concentration words, data source WoS, 2020.

Based on this result, a concentration sphere with 85 KWP (= sqrt (7,141)) is established according to Zipf’s Law, which is presented in 50 or more articles out of the total of 5,281. Moreover, a central concentration sphere of 9 KWPs (= sqrt (85)) can be found, with keywords present in a range of 178 to 346 articles out of a total of 5,281. These nine pivotal keywords are all connected in terms of co-occurrence (associated by Clarivate two or more to the same article) and within papers with an average number of citations in WoS that vary from 9.27 to 16.69, as shown in Table 5 . The nine most prominent key words in relation to the study of the SDGs are health, climate change, management, impact, challenges, governance, systems, policy and framework. These terms already suggest some of the themes around which the debate and research in this area revolves.


The prominence of these keywords is obtained by combining the level of occurrence and average citations (see Table 5 ): on the one hand, the occurrence or number of articles with which the KWP is associated (e.g., Management, 346) and, on the other hand, the average citations presented by the articles associated with these words (e.g., Framework. 9.27). The final score (prominence) mixes both concepts, given the product of the occurrences and the average citations of each KWP in proportion to the mean values (e.g., (330 * 16.69)/(246 * 11.96) = 1.9).

3.5. Relations within the academic contributions

The coupling-citation analysis using VOSviewer identifies the 5,281 articles under study, of which only those found in the h-index as a whole have been considered (the h-index in the database is 81, as there are 81 articles cited 81 or more times). The bibliographic coupling analysis found consistent connections in only 73 of these articles, gathered in seven clusters. Such clusters and unconnected articles are represented in Fig 3 .


Data source WoS. 2020.

In simple terms, discrimination belonging to one cluster or another depends on the total link number that an article has with the other 80 articles based on the use of the common references. Table 6 specifies the articles belonging to the same publication cluster in relation to Fig 3 .


Bibliographic coupling analysis can also be used to link the seven clusters that use common references with the field document title (TI), publication name (SO), Keyword Plus-KWP (ID), and research areas (SC). This allows the identification of the main topics of each cluster. As shown in Table 7 , cluster 1 (red) concerns environmental and public affairs; cluster 2 (green), health; cluster 3 (blue), economics; cluster 4 (yellow), health–the burden of disease; cluster 5 (violet), economics–Kuznets curve; cluster 6 (light blue), energy; and cluster 7 (orange), soil—land.


3.6. Outstanding contributions in the field

The cocitation analysis identified a total of 232,081 references cited by the 5,281 articles under study. It suggests taking as references to review those that present 44 or more occurrences in the database (232,081/5,281). This method results in 34 articles that have been used as main inputs for the scientific production under analysis, cited between 44 and 504 times. A result worth highlighting is that one in three of these documents corresponds to reports from international organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), World Bank Group (WB) or World Health Organization (WHO). However, it is also possible to identify 21 peer-reviewed scientific contributions. These papers are identified in detail in Table 8 .


The cocitation analysis yields the degree of relationship of these 21 most cited research articles. It is how such references have been used simultaneously in the same article. Fig 4 displays this information (to help readers, it has also been included in Table 8 , centrality in 21 column).


According to the relationship level in the most cited article’s selection, the graph ( Fig 3 ) has been clustered in three colours: cluster 1 in red colour groups the highest articles proportion (9) published between 2013 and 2017 in 7 journals. These journals present an impact factor (IF) quite heterogeneous, with values ranging from 2.576 (Sustainability) to 60.39 (Lancet) and indexed in one or more of the following WoS categories: Environmental Sciences (4 journals), Green & Sustainable Science & Technology (4), Environmental Studies (2), Development Studies (1), Medicine, General & Internal (1), Multidisciplinary Sciences (1) and Regional & Urban Planning (1). Three of these articles are cited 130–150 times in the 5,281-article dataset and, at the same time, show a connection centrality of 95–100% with the other 20 articles in the graph, implying a high level of cocitation. The other two clusters group six articles each. The articles of cluster 2 (green colour) are included in a widespread WoS category set: Environmental Sciences (3 journals), Geosciences, Multidisciplinary (2), Ecology (1), Economics (1), Energy & Fuels (1), Environmental Studies (1), Green & Sustainable Science & Technology (1), Materials Science, Multidisciplinary (1), Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences (1) and Multidisciplinary Sciences (1). The research of Nilsson [ 101 ] was used as a reference in 176 of the 5,281 articles under study, showing a centrality of 100%. This great connection level is also featured in another less cited article [ 17 ] published in Earth’s Future. Finally, cluster 3 (blue) highlights six articles concentrated in three highly cited journals in the WoS categories: Medicine, General & Internal (Lancet) and Multidisciplinary Sciences (Nature and Science), whose IFs range from 41.9 to 60.4. In general, they are articles less connected (cocited) to the set of 21, with centralities of 30–90%. Two of these articles were referenced 140 times or more, although one was published in 2009. Thus, cluster 3 concentrates the references mainly in journals on environmental issues with scientific-technological orientation, as well as classic and high-impact WoS journals (The Lancet, Nature and Science). It is worth noting that some of these top journals may not be listed in Table 4 as they are not included in the Bradford’s nucleus, due to their comparatively low number of contributions published.

Finally, continuing with the thematic study, a cross-citation analysis was developed. Considering only the 81 articles that are part of the h-index of the total set of 5,821 articles under study, the citations that are presented among this elite article set are explored using VosViewer. The cross-citation analysis detects existing relationships between 37 of these 81 articles. Once the directionality of the citations has been analysed, a directed temporal graph is generated using Pajek 64 version 5.09, which is presented in Fig 5 .


Fig 5 shows how these 37 highly cited articles are related to each other (the number after the name is the publication year), considering that some of these articles are cited as references in other articles in this set. The relationships between the articles in Fig 5 are complex and should be understood under a temporal sequence logic in the citation between two articles. However, some trends can be highlighted.

On the one hand, some contributions stand out for their centrality. Lim et al. [ 102 ] is connected with eight of the 37 articles (21.6%) on citing relationships, as is Fullman et al. [ 27 ], which relates to seven of the 37 articles (18.9%). Both authors researched health issues and are also coauthors of nine articles of the dataset under study. On the other hand, according to the SDG segmentation proposed, Hajer et al. [ 19 ] and Le Blanc [ 12 ] are recognized as seminal articles in social SDGs, since they contribute to the production of other subsequent articles in the set of 37. On the other hand, in health matters, seminal articles are Norheim et al. [ 103 ] and You et al. [ 104 ], two articles published in The Lancet whose citations also contribute to the production of the set introduced as Fig 5 .

4. Discussion

The main purpose of this paper was to develop a critical and comprehensive scientometric analysis of the global academic literature on the SDGs from 2015 to 2020, conducted using the WoS database. The attained results have made it possible to comprehend and communicate to the scientific community the current state of the debate on the SDGs, thus offering insights for future lines of research.

To achieve the objectives, the present study analysed a broad spectrum of 5,281 articles published in 1,135 WoS journals. A first aspect that is striking is the great diversity of topics addressed in these studies, which reflects the multidimensionality of the SDGs. Despite this, more than half of the articles are concentrated in two JCR-WoS categories (Environmental Sciences and Green Sustainable Science Technology), a percentage that exceeds 80% if the categories Environmental Studies and Public Environmental Occupational Health are added. Thus, on the one hand, the size of the body of literature and the broad spectrum of topics more than covers the four perspectives of analysis that are relevant in research on the SDGs, according to Hajer et al. [ 19 ]: planetary boundaries, the safe and just operating space, the energetic society and, last, green competition. However, on the other hand, results also highlight a strong focus on the environmental aspects of the SDGs, which undoubtedly concentrate the most contributions.

The Sustainable Development Goals constitute an area of research that has experienced exponential scientific growth, a tendency already suggested by previous studies [ 81 , 105 ], thus complying with the fundamental principles of Price’s law [ 76 ], which suggests the need for this exponential growth to manifest a continuous renewal of knowledge on the subject under study. The results of this study highlight a significant increase in the number of articles published in the last two years, given that six out of ten articles were published in 2019 or 2020. This tendency confirms how the SDGs continue to arouse great interest in the scientific community and that the debate on the interpretation of sustainable development is still open and very present in academia.

The variety of knowledge areas from which science can approach the SDGs demonstrates the different avenues that exist to address different research questions and their multidimensional nature, as anticipated by Pradhan et al. [ 17 ], a dispersion not far from the traditional fields of knowledge or the conventional dimensions of sustainability. Investigating the reasons for this dispersion in academic research on the SDGs may be a topic of great interest, as anticipated by Burford et al. [ 47 ] and Le Blanc [ 12 ], since understanding the phenomenon of development can only be achieved if the main challenges, both current and future, can be viewed holistically and comprehensively. Along these lines, Imaz and Eizagirre [ 106 ] state that the complexity of the study of the SDGs is undoubtedly marked by their aspiration for universality, by their broad scope encompassing the three basic pillars of sustainable development (economic development, environmental sustainability and social inclusion) and by their desire for integration, motivated by the complexity of the challenges and by the countless interlinkages and interdependencies.

This natural multidimensionality of the SDGs calls for strong cooperation and collaboration between researchers, universities, and countries. In this sense, the scientometric analysis provides good news, as more than a hundred prolific authors (defined as those authors who have published nine or more articles on this topic) have been identified, although these are reduced to eight in contemporary terms (2019 or 2020). This select group of eight authors who lead research and publishing on the SDGs (sometimes with dual or triple affiliations) produce knowledge for universities and research centres both in the global north and the global south: Canada, the U.S., the UK, Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, India, Benin, Russia and Cyprus. The protagonist role played by research institutes in countries in the north has already been acknowledged by previous studies [ 81 , 105 ]. However, the emergence of top scholars producing academic knowledge from developing countries is a more recent tendency, which underscores the pertinence of this analysis.

A closer look at the academic and research curricula of these authors leads to the conclusion that the study of the SDGs does not constitute a final field of research at present. These researchers come from very heterogeneous disciplines, so their approach to the SDGs is also multidisciplinary. To illustrate it with an example, the most cited article by Professor Abhilash of Banaras Hindu University (the most published contemporary prolific author along with Christopher Murray of the University of Washington), with 363 WoS citations in February 2021 alone, is on the use and application of pesticides in India.

In more concrete terms, following Wu et al.’s [ 23 ] classification as a frame of reference, the eight most prolific contemporary authors approach the SDG research problem from two main domains, one of an environmental nature (Abhilash, Leal-Filho, Alola and Kalin) and the other related to health (Murray, Yaya, Bhutta, and Hay). The most common journals where these authors publish on environmental issues are the Journal of Cleaner Production, Higher Education, Water and Science of the Total Environment. Health researchers, on the other hand, tend to publish mainly in the journals of the BMC group, The Lancet and Nature.

This wide diversity of academic fora can be clarified with the application of Bradford’s laws, which identified a core of 18 journals that bring together the debates and academic discussions about the SDGs. It is worth noting that the 18 journals that form the core are distributed in 16 different thematic areas or WoS categories: Development Studies; Ecology; Economics; Education & Educational Research; Engineering, Environmental; Environmental Sciences; Environmental Studies; Green & Sustainable Science & Technology; Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism; International Relations; Medicine, General & Internal; Multidisciplinary Sciences; Public, Environmental & Occupational Health; Regional & Urban Planning; and Water Resources. On the one hand, this wide dispersion in terms of areas of knowledge suggests that research on the SDGs can be studied from different approaches and disciplines, which opens up a wide range of possibilities for researchers from different branches of scientific knowledge, as well as an opportunity for multidisciplinary collaborations. On the other hand, this heterogeneity might also hinder the communication and dissemination of learning from one field to another. The cross-citation analysis provided in Fig 5 suggests this possibility, as seminal works are related to thematic disciplines more than to the seminal contributions identified in Table 8 .

In this sense, it is interesting to analyse the top-cited articles in the database, as they provide a clear picture of the field of knowledge. One-third of these contributions are provided by international institutions, such as the United Nations Development Program or the World Bank, which provide analyses of a normative nature. This prevalence reflects some weaknesses in the academic basis of the analysis of the SDGs as a whole from a scientific approach, an idea reinforced when the most cited papers are analysed. In fact, only six papers have reached more than 100 citations by contributions included in the database [ 4 , 12 , 24 , 29 , 101 , 107 ]. Not only were these papers largely published before the approval of the SDGs themselves, but half of them are editorial material, inviting contributions but are not evidence-based research papers. Highlighting the nature of the most cited contributions does not diminish their value but does speak to the normative approach that underlies the analysis of the SDGs when addressed not individually but as an overall field of research.

Regarding topics and themes of interest, the scientometric analysis carried out in this research identified a strong concentration around a small number of terms, as represented in a heat map ( Fig 2A and 2B ). All these topics constitute a potential source of inspiration for future research on the subject.

Through an analysis of the main keywords, it can be seen that the studies focused on the traditional areas of health and climate change. However, these keywords also provide new elements for discussion, as they uncover some other areas of study that have been highlighted by the literature. First, the appearance of the term Management as one of the main keywords reveals the importance that researchers give to the role of business in achieving the SDGs, as already suggested by Scheyvens et al. [ 49 ] and Spangenber [ 22 ]. Second, the need to address new governance processes and to seek global solutions, as suggested by authors such as Sachs [ 4 ], underscore the keywords Governance, Policy and Framework, all aspects deemed crucial for the achievement of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda [ 108 ]. Finally, other keywords such as Impact, Challenges or Systems are a clear example of the complexity and interdependencies that exist in research on the SDGs, considered an essential aspect by Griggs et al. [ 13 ] or Le Blanc [ 12 ]. The attained results highlight some of the connections between different domains of sustainable development by identifying categories and themes that are highly related in the groupings that emerge from the bibliographic coupling analysis.

In general terms, the holistic vision of development embodied by the SDGs has drawn the attention of very different disciplines, fields and areas of scientific knowledge. However, seven major areas of research have emerged: environmental and public affairs, health, economics, health-burden of disease, economics-Kuznets curve, energy and soil-land. These areas are not far removed from the current paradigm of sustainable development, where poverty or inequality are problems that are not exclusive to developing countries [ 5 , 6 ]. Thus, emerging issues that mainly affect first world countries, including urban planning, the impact of activities such as hospitality, sport or tourism, or education for development, are starting to stand out with increasing intensity, which continues to open new avenues for future research.

In short, the results of the scientometric analysis have provided a systematized overview of the research conducted in relation to the SDGs since the approval of the 2030 Agenda. Among other things, the critical analysis has identified the main trends with respect to the number of publications, the most relevant journals, the most prolific authors, institutions and countries, and the collaborative networks between authors and the research areas at the epicentre of the debate on the SDGs. As Olawumi and Chan [ 105 ] already acknowledged, the power research networks applied to the study of the SDGs offer valuable insights and in-depth understandings not only of key scholars and institutions but also about the state of research fields, emerging trends and salient topics.

Consequently, the results of this work contribute to the systematic analysis of scientific research on the SDGs, which can be of great interest for decision-making at the governmental level (e.g., which research to fund and which not to fund), at the corporate level and at the level of research centres, both public and private. Furthermore, the scientometric analysis carried out may provide clues for academics regarding future lines of research and topics of interest where the debate on the SDGs is currently situated.

5. Conclusions, limitations and future research lines

As could not be otherwise, all research in the field of social sciences has a series of limitations that must be clearly and transparently explained. The two most relevant in this study are the following.

First, although the study of the SDGs is a recent object of research, the rate of publication is growing exponentially, such that scientific knowledge is renewed practically in its entirety every two years. The only articles that escape this scientometric obsolescence are those with a high number of citations (h-index). This circumstance generates a temporal limitation in terms of the conclusions obtained in the present investigation, conclusions that should be revised periodically until the growth of publications stabilizes by adopting a logistic form, as recommended by Sun and Lin [ 109 ].

Second, the articles used as the basis for this research were restricted to those published in the JCR-WoS. This decision was made for two main reasons. On the one hand, the limitation was to eliminate potential distortions that could occur as a result of the constant growth of journals that are incorporated annually into other databases, such as ESCI-WoS (Emerging Sources Citation Index). On the other hand, it is impossible to compare impact indices if integrating other databases such as Scopus.

We are aware of these limitations, which for developing a more selective analysis imply assuming the cost of less coverage in exchange.

Regarding future lines of research, the analysis highlights how the study of the SDGs is failing to balance their economic, social and sustainability components, as it still maintains an overall focus on environmental studies.

This suggests the urgency of increasing studies on social SDGs, key topics on the 2030 Agenda including equity (SDGs 4, 5 and 10), social development (SDGs 11 and 16) and governance (SDG 17). These topics are part of the public discourse and currently a source of social pressure in many latitudes, but they are still research areas that are necessary to deepen.

Economic sustainability studies are more present, but highly concentrated, in health economics, as previously acknowledged by Meschede [ 81 ]. Academic research on the SDGs against poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2) has not achieved such a prominent place as health. Even less so, the economics of technological development (SDGs 8 and 9), which are recognized as crucial for economic development.

Finally, the environmental SDGs do not achieve a balance among themselves either. Academic research has prioritized action for climate (SDG 13) and industrial and human consumption, mainly water (SDG 6) and energy (SDG 7). New research should be developed in the area of land (SDG 15), life under the sea (SDG 14) and sustainable production (SDG 12).

Supporting information

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  • 9. Nations United. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York, NY, USA: United Nations; 2015.

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Sustainable development : Why is it not delivering on its promises?

  • Julen Gonzalez Redin

Student thesis : Doctoral Thesis › Doctor of Philosophy

  • sustainable development
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This article aims to analyze how the Lao government, especially the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), interprets and implements the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Content analysis and documentary method are employed as research methods to analyze the SDGs in Laos. For a socialist country under one-party rule, the SDGs create a dilemma. While they promote development, they also seem to imply a multi-party democracy. This article argues that the LPRP manages to reinterpret the SDGs in such a way that they support the national development agenda without calling for a multi-party system or massive political reform. Thus, the SDGs become another source of the legitimation of the one-party state. To support this argument, the article first deals with the role of external development partners in promoting the SDGs in Lao development. Next, it examines how the Lao leadership interprets and implements the SDGs in national development. The concept of sustainability has been interpreted to be associated with political stability and security in the one-party state, forming the particular fourth pillar of the SDGs in Laos. This pillar allows the LPRP to employ a socialist rhetoric, while at the same time pointing to successful development in compliance with the SDGs to legitimize one-party rule.

Sustainable Development Goals under Party-led Development in Laos

Sustainability has been the main issue for strengthening both economic and social development of Thailand since 1961, when the 1st National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESP) was promoted. Since then the United States has been the main donor. Thai technocrats have rarely created and integrated traditional Thai wisdom to serve the ultimate goal of development. Moreover, local sustainability from public participation in any development process has been ignored despite being the root of democratization from the bottom up. In the age of oriental awakening with China rising in this region, the time has come for Thailand to use its own wisdom to serve both in the local and global context.

The Quest for Local Sustainability: How to Balance the Development Paradigm


sdgmove Thailand

Sufficiency Economy Philosophy: Thailand's Path towards Sustainable Development Goals Recycle Paper

Andreas Heinimann

Development Intervention Disparities and the Poverty–Environment Nexus in the Lower Mekong Basin: Understanding Environmental Services in a Meso-Scale Perspective

Sharachchandra (Sharad) Lele

"Over the past few years, k'Sustainable Development" (SD) has emerged as the latest development catchphrase. A wide range of nongovernmental as well as governmental organizations have embraced it as the new paradigm of development. A review of the literature that has sprung up around the concept of SD indicates, however, a lack of consistency in its interpretation. More important, while the all-encompassing nature of the concept gives it political strength, its current formulation by the mainstream of SD thinking contains significant weaknesses. These include an incomplete perception of the problems of poverty and environmental degradation, and confusion about the role of economic growth and about the concepts of sustainability and participation. How these weaknesses can lead to inadequacies and contradictions in policy making is demonstrated in the context of international trade, agriculture, and forestry. It is suggested that if SD is to have a fundamental impact, politically expedient fuzziness will have to be given up in favor of intellectual clarity and rigor."

Sustainable Development: A critical review

This article drew managers’ understanding on concept, dimensions, mechanisms and stakeholders of sustainable development (SD). The respondents were 338 managers of seven randomly selected ministries including the Ministries of: Education; the Interior; Housing and Urban Development; Health and Medical Education; Science, Research and Technology; Energy; and Jihad-e-Agriculture. The main research tool was a questionnaire. The findings revealed that responsible well-being and improvement is central to sustainable development from the managers’ prospective, while the linkage between sustainability and development issues has less importance. Respondents also pointed out that combating deforestation, protecting the atmosphere, managing fragile ecosystems and protecting the quality and supply of freshwater resources were the most important dimensions for achieving the goals of SD in practice. Results of the study on the mechanisms of SD also showed that respondents believed “financial resources” and “clean technology transfer” have greater priority over other mechanisms for implementing SD programs. Overall, they pointed out that major groups, namely NGOs, trade unions, farmers, scientific and technological community and indigenous people play key roles in practicing SD programs.


2018, The Economy, Sustainable Development, and Energy International Conference

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is both a continuation to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and an improvement on the addition of ‘means of implementation’ to achieve the goals. The SDGs recognize that countries should have their own ways to achieve development goals. In this regard, Thailand, through its ‘sufficiency economy philosophy’ (SEP) invented by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has created a unique path to attain sustainable development. The SEP path involves (a) shaping personal attitudes and behaviors towards sufficiency and (b) setting procedures or protocols for development projects and programmes. In this paper, we developed a system of indicators that capture the first component—personal attitudes and behaviors—of the sufficiency economy philosophy practiced by Thai people, as well as a set of ultimate development outcome indicators, using data from nation-wide household and community surveys. We then analyze how practicing the sufficiency economy phi...

Monitoring Development Sustainability through Sustainable Community Indicators

2012, Kasetsart Journal: Social Sciences

This study aimed to demonstrate how a community in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province has been successfully using the sufficiency economy concept to develop its community. The study employed two techniques of qualitative data collection, which were in-depth interviews and fieldwork surveys. From the findings, we found that more than 60 percent of the participating households used the sufficiency economy concept to maintain their livelihood including activities such as planting vegetables for both domestic consumption and sale, domesticating animals, saving money with a cooperative society, protecting their environment, and living their lives by moral principles and human ethics.

Kroeksakul, P., Neal, M. W., Promsaka Na Sakolnakorn, T. 2012. Sufficiency Economy as a Way of Life: A Case Study of Nam Bor Village, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Kasetsart Journal: Social Sciences, 33(1), 43-54

John Fien , Linda Brennan

The Sustainable Communities Challenge in Southeast Asia

Making the rural people’s living experience more comfortable and relevant through development has always been a priority of the nation. For this research, the areas for development focus on healthier sanitation, higher security, improvement of comfort, increase of knowledge and sustainability; while the aspect of technologies encompasses energy, clean water generation, waste management as well as a living space that is secure, comfortable and yet remains similar to the natural habitat. The purpose of this research is to ascertain the relationships between communities’ grassroots needs and the technologies implemented. The second part of the research is to validate available technologies that can be potentially incorporated into a particular community. This study authenticates a past project implemented in a specific kampung in Malaysia on the effectiveness of development through users’ account. The prevailing trend is that the development and technologies were not fully utilized due...

Designing slim (sustainable living in Malaysia), a development process model for ruralcommunities

The continuous process of observing and assessing the development scenarios around them provide the public the perception and understanding of the current development issues. The shortcomings of the current development methods inspire the public to develop a set of preferred development values. The information of public’s development values is important to sustainable development management as values underlie people’s action and behaviour. Without greater understanding and awareness of this, conflicts over management are prone to occur. This research focuses on the development values from the socio-cultural point of views in Sepang, Malaysia. Using qualitative methods, in-depth interviews and group discussions of selected respondents were held to represent their views and communities represented by them. The analysis of data highlights five theme values in development namely identities, peace, freedom, environment and development. There were seven fundamental needs according to Max-...

Public Sustainable Development Values: A Case Study in Sepang, Malaysia

Vo Thanh Son

2022, Springer

By 2015, the United Nations have adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to further promote sustainable development in the world, with particular emphasis on the importance of integrating sustainable development into each nation’s development policy. This paper is an attempt to review the process of sustainable development in Vietnam in terms of institutional arrangement and related policies. By reviewing the framework for integrating sustainable development dimensions into development policies in the world, the paper assesses the initial results of integrating sustainable development into national socio-economic development strategies and plans by the goals and priorities of sustainable development as well as by its dimensions or components in Vietnam. The paper also addresses the main challenges and constraints as the shortage of technical guidance to integrate sustainable development into development policies and the lack of resources needed.

Integrating Sustainable Development into National Policy: The Practice of Vietnam

Amy Poteete

A Tripartite Analysis of Sustainable Development: Environmental, Social, and Political Forms of Sustainability

Siddhartha Sanyal

2007, The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic, and Social Sustainability: Annual Review

Sustainable Development of Developing Countries: A Holistic Socio-Economic-Political Approach

Emanuel Kilinga

Sustainability of rural development projects Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty

Vanina Bouté

2009, In F. Bourdier (ed.), Development and Dominion. Indigenous people of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, Bangkok: White Lotus, pp. 53-78.

International agencies and national policies: What development for rural societies? A case study from Laos

Osman Tahir

2010, Journal of Sustainable Development

Identifying Challenges in Implementing Sustainable Practices in a Developing Nation

Sengphachanh Sonethavixay

Adding Values to Agriculture: A vision and roadmap for sustainable development in the Lao uplands

Psychology and Education Journal

Millions of papers have been published and the same amounts of discussions have been made on the topic of Sustainable Development. Despite that, the situation is getting worsen day by day, not even meager progress has been reported. The culture, which is developed in society wherein, dead are worshipped and living people are crushed under the legs of power politics. It has stolen humanity from humans the structured society has created an institutional crisis and emotional crisis. People are suffering from dark emotions irrespective of any group of age. Instead of debating about the topic, we should start nudging society for sustainable development at the micro-level. Working at the Macro level for sustainable development without talking about the micro-level is not only futility but also wasting of resources. The ubiquitous three monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi depicting moral gestures see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil are the ardent requirement of the 21st Century as it talks ...

Redefining Sustainable Development

Vicky Lofthouse

Introduction to Sustainable Development

Jari Kaivo-oja , H. Lakkala , O. Akgün , Jyrki Luukkanen

energy, environment and livelihoods in the lao pdr

Dr. Fariha Tariq

Malaysian government is focused to accomplish world-class living standard of whole nation by year 2025 through sustainable development irrespective of regional, religious and ethnic boundaries. The Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) is an organization set up for the implementation of Koridor Utara (Northern Corridor Economic Region, NCER) in Malaysia for achieving this vision. Such economic corridors are aimed to elevate the income levels through agriculture, manufacturing, logistics, education and tourism. The execution of development projects always impact the involved community in multiple dimensions. Masuk Kampung Project at Pantai Murni, Yan Kedah was one of the NCIA initiatives in collaboration with AMB (Akademi Binaan Malaysia). This paper draws out a conceptual framework of community perceptions associated with this project based on qualitative research. Viewpoints studied through interviews and participant observation helped in fabricating the opportunities a...

Kampung Project : A Paradigm of Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Rural Development


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Mapping ESG Content and the SDGs to PhD Programs

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  • National and international sustainability targets, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, provide benchmarks to help us achieve community transformation.
  • Embedding environmental, social, and governance concerns and SDG content in educational programs remains an ongoing challenge for universities, given the need to address discipline-specific perspectives.
  • By providing appropriate case studies that align with the SDGs, we can help our graduate students build their problem-solving capability.

Among the many challenges facing business schools today is how to appropriately embed environmental, social, and governance (ESG) content in their undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Achieving this goal is a critical component of helping communities and nations meet broader social and environmental goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations.

In fact, in its 2022 report on the SDGs, the U.N. highlights the “need (for) urgent action in order to rescue the SDGs and deliver meaningful progress for people and the planet by 2030.” As educators, we must do more than simply inform our communities. We also must help them build their problem-solving capacity and direct this capacity toward identifying and solving the problems the world now faces.

How can universities best accomplish this goal from a teaching perspective? What processes can we follow to facilitate ESG adoption and provide our communities with the skills necessary to meet the SDGs? One answer is relatively straightforward: We must reference ESG content and provide relevant examples in our courses. By providing unbiased information in these subject areas, we can inspire meaningful changes in human behavior .

But what more can we accomplish through research-based graduate education, where there is typically a significant theoretical and empirical component?

Here, the answer is more complicated and might require universities to reform the traditional discipline-based graduate programs they offer. For example, in the doctoral program at the College of Business and Law (CBL) at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT University), we take a three-step approach.

First, we align doctoral program content with relevant ESG and SDG criteria. Second, we carefully map ESG content to relevant SDGs and courses. Finally, we align specific ESG course content with discipline-specific interpretations.

Through this comprehensive approach, our objective is to educate students and scholars who will keep ESG and the SDGs in mind in their research and their teaching.

Mapping the SDGs to ESG

The 17 UN SDGs provide appropriate strategic benchmarks that schools can use to achieve social, environmental, and community transformation. As educators embed ESG content in their graduate programs, they can consider each SDG in terms of its underlying ESG components.

For example, for the environmental component, educators can incorporate case studies and other content related to issues such as sustainability in our built environments, access to fresh water and sanitation, creation of the infrastructure necessary to support and sustain communities, management and restoration of our land and water-based ecosystems, and the environmental challenges associated with climate change.

To address social concerns, schools can ensure access to inclusive, equitable, and lifelong education, while integrating content related to issues such as poverty alleviation, diversity, and access to healthcare.

To address social concerns, schools can ensure access to inclusive, equitable, and lifelong education , while integrating content related to issues such as food and energy security, poverty alleviation, diversity and gender equality , and access to education and healthcare. To address governance , faculty can include content related to individual and corporate responsibility, especially in terms of promoting policies and regulations that support sustainable production and resource consumption.

How can schools map these strategic benchmarks to doctoral education in business? We share our approach below.

Mapping ESG and SDGs to Doctoral Courses

In 2022, RMIT University undertook a significant reform of its doctoral programs that provide multidisciplinary training to individuals pursuing careers in business, technology, economics, and law. The program’s coursework translates current academic research at both theoretical and empirical levels in ways that link to ESG and the SDGs.

In the CBL, for example, our doctoral program now has five key courses. Each of these courses, described below, is designed to accommodate content related to ESG and societal impact and position students to produce high-quality research projects that have social and community impact:

  • Research Philosophy and Design provides students with an understanding of ontology and epistemology and requires them to explore how these two areas of study inform discipline-specific intellectual traditions and research design.
  • Research Methods and Impact provides insights into alternative research methodologies and impact frameworks necessary to study issues in business and law.
  • Higher Degree Research Practice enables students to develop high-quality research project proposals, as well as to translate their work for, and engage with, multiple audiences as part of their research design.
  • Applied Research Analytics helps students learn qualitative and quantitative data analytic techniques to effectively analyze, present, and interpret research data, while adhering to underlying assumptions and principles of ethics and integrity.
  • Advanced Seminars in Global Business and Law Research (ASGBLR) provides an understanding of how business and law theories have solved global problems and realized benefits for society. This course helps students build SDG problem-solving capability, identify appropriate research problems, and establish a foundation for contributing knowledge at the doctoral level.

Let’s look at the design of ASGBLR, as just one example. The course comprises six seminars, each two weeks long, on the following topics:

  • International capital flows.
  • Insider trading and market manipulation in financial markets.
  • The measurement of ESG criteria.
  • The role of socially responsible investment.
  • The relevance of portfolio diversification.
  • The response of organizations and governments to climate change.

In the first week of each seminar, students complete reading assignments and analyze economic data linked to relevant international and domestic ESG content. This phase of the seminar is designed to help them understand theory, identify empirical context, and use relevant data. In the second week of each seminar, students apply that data to solving a unique research problem that is linked to key ESG criteria and relevant to their disciplinary perspectives.

All content and case studies for these topics address specific ESG criteria, while allowing for individual discipline interpretation. For example, in our seminar on international capital flows, we look at the impact of war on communities, including its effect on economic growth more broadly ( SDG 8 ) and poverty in particular ( SDG 1 ). For insider trading, we discuss the role of whistleblowers in over-the-counter markets , where securities laws often ignore whistleblower protections ( SDG 16 ).

We look at the measurement of ESG criteria in the context of using smart technology and blockchain to determine the “greenness” of international bond or security issues that help finance infrastructure ( SDG 9 ) and build sustainable cities and communities ( SDG 11 ). As we explore the role of socially responsible investment, we also look at the legal and human rights implications of the trade of blood (or conflict) diamonds and the procurement of precious metals and stones ( SDG 12 ).

The seminar on portfolio diversification presents issues related to the role of ESG stocks and cryptocurrencies in investment portfolios. Students examine how investments in both areas may facilitate the development of better energy ( SDG 7 ) and other public infrastructure ( SDG 6 ).

Finally, the seminar on climate change ( SDG 13 ) looks at tourism’s wider impacts in the South Pacific. Case studies focus on programs that support agricultural and aquacultural development ( SDG 2 ) while minimizing tourism’s impact on water ( SDG 14 ) and land-based ecosystems ( SDG 15 ). This seminar also addresses SDG 1 by exploring ways that tourism can alleviate poverty and hunger, support health and well-being, and promote economic growth in indigenous communities.

At every stage, we recognize that each student’s problem-solving perspective depends on a specific disciplinary focus, whether it’s finance, law, marketing, or another area. We expose students to perspectives from other disciplines through team-building exercises that are designed also to improve their communication, trust-building, and decision-making skills. For example, student teams might compete to build the best-performing asset portfolios comprising “sin” stocks versus “SDG” stocks, or they might work to find tourism destinations that best comply with SDG criteria.

Throughout these seminars, we facilitate discussions of critical developments in ESG at a national and international level. In these ways, we work to promote a holistic approach to learning.

Mapping ESG Criteria to Seminar Outcomes

Let’s now look at how we map ESG criteria to the topic of our first seminar, which investigates the impact of economic, financial, and political crisis on international capital flows.

In the first week, students discuss how capital flows are measured, what data is available, and what empirical and theoretical methods are used in existing studies. In the second week, students investigate the impact Russia’s war in the Ukraine is having on the global flow of capital.

Throughout the seminar, students are invited to map the war’s impact on ESG issues in a range of disciplines—including international law, international business, marketing, economics, and finance.

We want to raise students’ awareness of how issues negatively affect environments, ecosystems, individuals, communities, and societies, so they can work to devise solutions.

For instance, they might discuss how sanctions on capital movements affect the building of necessary infrastructure in remote and regional communities, or how the exit from Russian markets of multinational firms committed to diversity and equality might affect social progress in destination countries. Or, they might look at how the war has increased the cost of food and energy, which likely will increase global poverty and inequity.

By taking this systematic approach in our seminars, we hope to achieve several outcomes. First, doctoral students should learn to map and identify the link between observed facts (such as changes in international capital flow) and specific issues or problems (such as how to finance infrastructure development when foreign capital inflow decreases). They should learn methods to solve problems (such as statistical analysis or models) and arrive at specific solutions (such as channeling domestic savings, approaching the World Bank for financial support, or calling on governments to provide financial assistance to households).

What is most important is that students view every issue not only from economic, financial, management, or legal perspectives, but also in very real-world terms. We want to raise their awareness of how environments, ecosystems, individuals, communities, and societies are negatively affected, so they can work to devise solutions.

Embracing Program Reform

Those of us who teach at universities have a responsibility to improve the human condition through what we learn, what we teach, and how we build a base of knowledge. We are in positions to prepare individuals and organizations to solve problems identified by the SDGs.

To accomplish these goals, we might need to reform the coursework in our graduate programs. To truly develop students’ problem-solving capabilities in ways that address large global challenges, we must systematically map our course content to ESG and SDG criteria.

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Home > LAW > Dissertations & Theses > 12

Dissertations & Theses

The Climate Change-Sustainable Development Nexus: A Proposal for Convergence

Alvin K. Leong , Pace University School of Law Follow

This thesis was written under the guidance of Dean Emeritus Richard L. Ottinger and submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Laws degree in Environmental Law at Pace University School of Law. The author may be contacted at [email protected].

Document Type

This thesis is founded on the proposition that climate change and sustainable development are inextricably linked with each other and form a “nexus” that should be understood in a pragmatic and holistic way. Accordingly, the climate change “problem” cannot be adequately addressed in “silos” or by traditional output control techniques but instead should be viewed as a multidimensional challenge that calls for transformative change in the world energy sector in light of the wider contexts of sustainability and social equity. This thesis observes that with the emergence of a post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations, the world is at or is fast approaching an inflection point in global development. While efforts to improve the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process are laudable, this thesis argues for a transformative approach to converge international collective action on climate change with the broader frameworks of global sustainable development processes. This thesis makes a proposal for the convergence and integration of the UNFCCC and sustainable development work streams, and suggests that China consider taking a leadership role under the broad aspirational goal of building “eco-civilization.”

Recommended Citation

Alvin K. Leong, The Climate Change-Sustainable Development Nexus: A Proposal for Convergence (Nov. 6, 2013) (LLM thesis, Pace University School of Law), available at

Since November 22, 2013

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International Studies

College: IS

Back to Academic Programs

The Korbel doctoral program provides an interdisciplinary curriculum to prepare for research and educator training on global interactions. Students explore issues of sustainable development, peace and security, global economic trends, and international human rights, and work toward solutions to some of the world's most pressing questions. While we offer extensive training in conventional fields of politics, economics and society, much of your work in this PhD program is conducted outside of the classroom, with faculty mentorship.

Close mentorship from faculty ensures your time at Korbel is enriching and career-specific, regardless of whether your career development is aimed at teaching at the collegiate level or in research, government or nonprofit organizations. In recent years, our doctoral graduates have gone on to teach and research at leading universities in the U.S. and abroad and pursue non-academic careers at the Ford Foundation, Carter Center, American Red Cross, RAND, and the U.S. government. 

Opportunities at Korbel

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Research Centers

The Josef Korbel School is home to many research centers that add depth to the school's commitment to integrating teaching, research and practical problem-solving.

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Financial Assistance

The Josef Korbel School provides a three-year full tuition waiver and living stipend for most candidates. Doctoral candidates also can take advantage of  opportunities  to serve as research assistants at the Josef Korbel School.

Degree Requirements

The Josef Korbel School of International Studies doctoral program provides an advanced learning environment centered on research on the world’s most pressing global challenges and opportunities, with a central focus on four themes in contemporary international studies: sustainable human development, global governance of economic and environmental interactions, human rights issues, and the management of conflict without violence.

See All Requirements

The doctoral program research colloquium is offered each fall term. You must take two research colloquium courses.

These four courses include: 

  • INTS 4324 International Political Economy
  • INTS 4501 Governance, Development and Peace in the 21 st  Century
  • INTS 4900 International Politics
  • INTS 4301 Introduction to Political Theory
  • INTS 4822 Contemporary Political Theory

To specialize your coursework, we allow you to choose two fields and take five courses in each. Specialization options include:

  • International Relations: Global Interactions and Economic Governance
  • Comparative Politics: States and Societies in Global Perspective
  • Contemporary Political Theory

A student advances to PhD candidacy after passing the written and oral comprehensive and after successful completion of an accepted dissertation prospectus. Students will take written and oral comprehensive exams in two of the three fields.

PhD Handbook

Doctoral students at the Korbel School take the following courses:

  • INTS 4500 Social Science Methods
  • INTS 4010 Epistemology or INTS 4522 Philosophy of Social Science

Methodology training beyond these required courses is a matter of individual needs and interests, and you should consult your advisor or potential dissertation committee chair and members about available options. Support is typically available to fund students for advanced methodological training outside of DU.

See Funding Options

The Korbel doctoral program encourages a multi-lingual environment. Furthermore, knowledge of a non-native language increases understanding across cultural divides beyond the actual language-learning process, which is invaluable insight when dealing with international affairs.

You're free to choose among the full range of graduate-level courses offered at the Korbel School in development, human rights, political economy, governance, and international peace and security. Courses may also be taken outside Korbel.

The extended research paper is a required step to prepare students for demonstrated capacity in independent research and writing. Ideally, your extended research paper allows you to work toward research-oriented publication while pursuing your degree. INTS 4327 is an advanced doctoral program seminar designed to afford students a forum and opportunity for crafting and refining the extended research paper.

Upon completing your thesis, you will defend your dissertation before a faculty panel, defending your work from critique and highlighting the strengths of your writing and research abilities.

Featured Faculty

Deborah Avant

Deborah Avant

Timothy Sisk

Timothy D. Sisk


Martin J. Rhodes


Micheline Ishay

Phd candidates, dogus aktan.

Studying: Contentious Politics, Repression and Dissent, Formal Models, Civil Resistance

Dogus Aktan focuses on using formal theory to parse out different mechanisms through which mass movements and political violence work, with a goal to develop links between theory and empirics. Put differently, Dogus is interested in how social movements and governments achieve their goals when pursuing contentious action or violence.

Susan Cossa

Studying: Sustainable Development in Africa; Sino-Africa Relations; Finance and Development

Susan Cossa is a PhD candidate at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Economics and Government at Smith College, Massachusetts. Susan’s research focuses on the implications of Sino-Africa relations for inclusive growth and inequality in Lusophone Africa. She is currently working on two primary research projects. The first is a co-authored project examining grand strategies in Sino-Africa relations and the implications for attainment of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 aspirations. The second paper evaluates the spillover effects of Chinese investments in Angola and Mozambique, with a focus on the effects of technology transfers on poverty reduction. Susan has worked as a teaching assistant for the ‘Contemporary Issues in the Global Economy’ course as well as the ‘Introduction to International Politics’ course. Susan is currently a Teaching Fellow at the Korbel School. In this role, she teaches the ‘Contemporary Issues in the Global Economy’ course. Susan is also a research scholar in the Korbel School’s Institute for Comparative and Regional Studies (ICRS).

Audrey Elliott

Studying: Migration and Gender Politics

Audrey researches migration and gender politics, with a focus on the immigration detention experiences of LGBT people. She received her Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts in German and International Affairs from the University of Georgia. Elliott is a teaching assistant and research assistant on the Ethics of Engagement project at the Sié Center.

Studying: llicit International Political Economy (IIPE) and Monetary Politics

Paul Kemp's research focuses primarily on Illicit International Political Economy (IIPE) and monetary politics. His dissertation in progress investigates the policy choices of the US Treasury with respect to the regulation of illicit financial flows. 

Louis Pascarella

Studying: Policing, Protest, and Conflict.

Sinduja Raja

Studying: Gender, State, Social Movements, Violence

Sinduja Raja is a Doctoral Candidate in International Studies from India at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She is also Project Manager of   Women’s Rights After War , a project jointly funded by the UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund and the National Science Foundation. She was one of ten awardees of the Sie Fellowship and scholarship from the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the Korbel School. Prior to this, she obtained a Master of Arts in Development Studies from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. Her dissertation research focuses on the impact of radical and anti-institutional social movements on state-society relations.

PhD Students

Sevde acabay-ögüç.

Studying: Political Economy of Sovereign Wealth Funds

Sevde   is a first-year Ph.D. student at Josef Korbel. She obtained her BA and MA degrees in International Relations at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. Her master’s thesis looks at Turkey’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and its implications on state-business relations in Turkey.   Sevde   works as a Teaching Assistant for various undergraduate classes at Korbel, including the Contemporary Issues in Global Economy course.

Kelci Burckhardt

Studying: Democratization, Political Elites, Political Psychology

Kelci Burckhardt is a doctoral student in international studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Her research focuses on elite theories of democratization and democratic backsliding. Kelci currently teaches courses on political leadership and intelligence and national security policymaking at DU and CSU-Pueblo. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Kelci spent ten years as a foreign policy analyst in the federal government, focused primarily on Sub-Saharan Africa.    

Aaron Pilkington

Studying: Iran, Middle East Security, US Foreign Policy in the Middle East, Armed Groups, Civil Defense, Strategy

Aaron Pilkington is a Doctoral Student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Aaron is an Air Force analyst of Middle East affairs, a General George W. Casey leadership scholar, and a recipient of the U.S. Air Force Academy Faculty Pipeline PhD scholarship and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force PhD scholarship. Aaron holds a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University and a Master of Arts in Middle East Security from the Naval Postgraduate School. Aaron’s doctoral research seeks to assess the impact of post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East on Iranian defense strategy and foreign policy. 

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Showing result 1 - 5 of 91 swedish dissertations containing the words THESIS FOR PHD sustainable development .

1. Towards sustainable product development through a lens of requirements

Author : Matilda Watz ; Sophie Hallstedt ; Alessandro Bertoni ; Johanna Wallin Nylander ; Niki Bey ; Blekinge Tekniska Högskola ; [] Keywords : SOCIAL SCIENCES ; SAMHÄLLSVETENSKAP ; ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY ; TEKNIK OCH TEKNOLOGIER ; TEKNIK OCH TEKNOLOGIER ; SAMHÄLLSVETENSKAP ; ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY ; SOCIAL SCIENCES ; Strategic sustainable development ; sustainable product development ; sustainable design ; product design ; sustainability criteria ; requirements development ; requirements ; system analysis ; group model building ; Strategic Sustainable Development ; Strategisk hållbar utveckling ;

Abstract : Product development companies’ attention and desire to contribute to sustainable development is growing fast but requires new capabilities. The socioecological systems constitute a complex landscape of operating conditions from which product development identify needs for new products. READ MORE

2. The Indivisible 2030 Agenda : Systems analysis for sustainability

Author : David Collste ; Sarah E. Cornell ; Arnaud Diemer ; Thomas Hahn ; Ana Paula Dutra Aguiar ; Jan Sendzimir ; Stockholms universitet ; [] Keywords : SOCIAL SCIENCES ; SAMHÄLLSVETENSKAP ; SAMHÄLLSVETENSKAP ; SOCIAL SCIENCES ; 2030 Agenda ; Sustainable Development Goals ; SDGs ; synergy ; integrated policy ; systemism ; planetary boundaries ; policy coherence ; system dynamics ; participatory approach ; human well-being ; Sustainability Science ; vetenskap om hållbar utveckling ;

Abstract : In 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda with 17 global sustainable development goals (SDGs) to shift the world onto a sustainable path. By referring to the SDGs as indivisible, the Agenda emphasises the interdependence of social and ecological concerns. READ MORE

3. Developing TQEM in SMEs : Management Systems Approach

Author : Kaisu Sammalisto ; Thomas Lindhqvist ; Peter Kisch ; Magnus Karlsson ; Internationella miljöinstitutet ; [] Keywords : SAMHÄLLSVETENSKAP ; SOCIAL SCIENCES ; SAMHÄLLSVETENSKAP ; SOCIAL SCIENCES ; ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY ; TEKNIK OCH TEKNOLOGIER ; TEKNIK OCH TEKNOLOGIER ; ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY ; Small and medium sized enterprises ; Total quality environmental management ; Environmental management systems ;

Abstract : Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) play an important role in all economies today and although their individual environmental impact is often limited, their total impact can be said to be significant due to their sheer number. Environmental management is a way to reduce the impact, but the results obtained by implementing ISO 14001 vary. READ MORE

4. Resilience Assessment in Strategic Planning for Sustainable Development

Author : Sellberg My ; Garry Peterson ; Norström Albert ; Sara Borgström ; Rebecka Milestad ; Stockholms universitet ; [] Keywords : NATURAL SCIENCES ; NATURVETENSKAP ; NATURVETENSKAP ; NATURAL SCIENCES ; environmental planning ; natural resource management ; practitioner perceptions ; societal planning ; transdisciplinary research ; transformation ; Transition Towns ;

Abstract : The framework of resilience thinking within sustainability science highlights ability to deal with change and uncertainty, and promotes more adaptive forms of management and governance. While the concept of resilience is increasingly being adopted into policies and planning, as well as by grass-roots movements, environmental and development organizations, many practical approaches to resilience lack theoretical backing. READ MORE

5. Development Towards Sustainable Ironmaking : The IronArc Process

Author : Jonas Svantesson ; Mikael Ersson ; Robert Eriksson ; KTH ; [] Keywords : ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY ; TEKNIK OCH TEKNOLOGIER ; TEKNIK OCH TEKNOLOGIER ; ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY ; IronArc ; Refractory wear ; plasma generator ; freeze-lining ; Teknisk materialvetenskap ; Materials Science and Engineering ;

Abstract : The IronArc process is a novel process for a more sustainable production of liquid pig iron using electricity for heating and hydrocarbons for reduction. This thesis aims to facilitate its use by investigating possible refractory solutions and the gas blowing in the process which is done by a plasma generator. READ MORE

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The Netherlands - 10 UNU-MERIT PhD fellowships in Innovation, Economics, Governance and Sustainable Development


Up to 10 UNU-MERIT PhD Fellowships  at  Maastricht University  within the PhD programme on Innovation, Economics, Governance and Sustainable Development (IEGSD).

Candidates of the Global South are encouraged to apply.

The PhD programme is part of the  UNU-MERIT Graduate School  and hosts over 100 PhD fellows working on a doctoral dissertation within the core disciplines of UNU-MERIT:

  • The economics of innovation  — Topics of interest include: the process of technological change and innovation; the economics of knowledge and new technologies; structural change and economic development; economic complexity and innovation.
  • Public policy and governance  — Topics of interest include: governance and institutions; migration and development; population, development and labour economics; social protection; poverty and inequality; policy analysis and evaluation.
  • Societal transformations  — Topics of interest include: innovation and entrepreneurship for sustainable transitions; sustainable innovation and transformation; system transitions; innovation for the ‘base of the Pyramid’.

What is offered

10 PhD fellowships are awarded in the full-time track mode, and tuition is waived for selected candidates.

The fellowship awarded consists of a monthly net fee of  €1650  provided by UNU-MERIT for a period of four years, conditional on satisfactory progress assessed at the end of the first year. In addition, fellows receive a research budget to cover costs related to research, such as equipment or travel.

Due to the limited availability of fellowships, motivated candidates are also encouraged to apply for other scholarships. More information can be found at the  scholarships pages  of the university website. 

There are several types of PhD positions within UNU-MERIT, and Maastricht University more broadly, depending on the type of funding (with an employment contract from Maastricht University, through a research grant or fellowship or using other external sources of funding) and the time available for the doctoral research (full-time or part-time, in combination with work responsibilities). See also  PhD information from Maastricht University .

Who is eligible

Candidates are expected to have:

  • A Master’s degree from a relevant academic field, including economics, political science, social sciences, business administration, computational social sciences, with a strong academic background in one of the core disciplines of the institute. Fellows who complete their Master’s degree in spring 2023 may also apply.
  • Documented theoretical and practical understanding of one or more of the topics of interest specified in the introduction.
  • The position requires spoken and written fluency in the English language, to be demonstrated through an approved test (see section application process) for applicants from non-English-speaking countries.

The UNU-MERIT PhD programme also offers a Dual career (part-time) track.  However, it does not offer any scholarships. More information  here .

Deadline:  15 February 2024

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phd thesis on sustainable development

Sustainable Development

Master's thesis.

The Master’s thesis is a research project in which you will learn to conduct independent research. You will develop and/or apply new methods, or apply existing methods to a new problem. The research should be relevant from both a scientific perspective, expanding the body of scientific knowledge, and a societal one, producing knowledge that contributes to a better understanding of or the solution to a problem.

More information on the Master’s thesis procedures can be found in the thesis course manual of academic year in which you started the programme.

Please use the Master’s thesis research proposal information (to be found on BlackBoard) for your research proposal. Summit your proposal to the secretariat  for approval by the Board of Examiners.

Track Coordinators keep a file of possible topics for research projects. Although students may propose their own topics, a proposal will only be accepted if an experienced supervisor for the topic is available.

Research work

Although the research work is not generally expected to be experimental in nature, the possibility of including some experimental work in your research project is not ruled out.

Where can you conduct your research?

You may conduct your research project at a university in the Netherlands or abroad, as well as at a research institute, consultancy or the like (providing the work is confirmed to be of sufficient academic level).

Part of your research can be also done in the form of an internship at a consultancy or government agency, for instance.

The assessment of your thesis

Your supervisor will assess your Master’s thesis using the Master’s Thesis Rubrics & Assessment Form (to be found on BlackBoard ). It makes the items the supervisor assesses and the criteria he or she uses transparent. You will receive the form when you start the Master’s thesis process. Please use it to acquaint yourself with the assessment criteria and to assess yourself during the thesis process. Your supervisor is expected to tell you early on which items he or she considers most important and the order they should take in the thesis, so you will not get any surprises later on.

Uploading your thesis

After your thesis has been approved, it has to be uploaded into the thesis archive . One week after the grade is registered in OSIRIS, the student will receive a request by email to upload the reviewed thesis (in PDF format) through OSIRIS Case for the purpose of the thesis archive. The thesis archive is only accessible to employees. If you did not receive an email, contact [email protected] .

Graduation presentations

Attending Graduation Presentations will be very supportive to the work on your thesis. Every months students present the results of their research. You have to attend at least ten presentations. If you do the track Energy and Materials, you can also attend the presentations of Energy Science .

Research topics

You have to attend at least ten presentations. In this way you will be able to develop a broad view on all kind of recent research topics, and to keep in touch with your fellow students and teachers especially in the final, sometimes rather lonely, stage of your studies. Of course you’re also most welcome to start attending them if you’re not working on your thesis yourself yet. Attending and discussing the research of students in their graduation phase, is a useful way to prepare yourself for your own thesis and it might bring you some inspiring ideas on the topics you’ll want to research yourself. You will find the schedules of the presentations per month - if applicable -  on  Blackboard .


You have to sign an attendance list, that is kept at the  secretariat . Keep track of the number of presentations you have attended.

The dates that are available for presenting your thesis or internship can be found on BlackBoard. Please  contact  the secretariat if you want to reserve a time slot (after consulting your supervisor).

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    Doctor of Philosophy in sustainability Request information How and when to apply Schedule a visit to ASU About the Doctor of Philosophy degree The PhD in sustainability, offered only on ASU's Tempe campus, engages scientists and leaders in research to investigate the urgent sustainability challenges of this century.

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    Search for dissertations about: "THESIS FOR PHD sustainable development". Showing result 1 - 5 of 86 swedish dissertations containing the words THESIS FOR PHD sustainable development . 1. Towards sustainable product development through a lens of requirements. Abstract : Product development companies' attention and desire to contribute to ...

  20. The Netherlands

    Up to 10 UNU-MERIT PhD Fellowships at Maastricht University within the PhD programme on Innovation, Economics, Governance and Sustainable Development (IEGSD). Candidates of the Global South are encouraged to apply. The PhD programme is part of the UNU-MERIT Graduate School and hosts over 100 PhD fellows working on a doctoral dissertation within the core disciplines of UNU-MERIT:

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