Home 9 Blog Posts 9 The Past, Present and Future of the SDGs and Scholarly Communications

The Past, Present and Future of the SDGs and Scholarly Communications

by | Mar 2, 2022 | 4 comments


By Simon Linacre, Head of Content, Brand, & Press, Digital Science

Taking a quick look at the world’s collective media output over the first weeks of January 2022, one might be forgiven for thinking the climate crisis had disappeared. In contrast to the in-depth reporting of COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November 2021, most media outlets in the West seemed to have focused on tensions on the Russian border with Ukraine, upcoming elections for President Macron in France – and birthday parties in 10 Downing Street in the UK. While all these stories do have some import, there has been more coverage of the Netflix drama Don’t Look Up which satirises the media’s lack of concern about an impending global crisis than the actual impending global crisis we are facing.

However, academic publishers at least seem to have taken a more progressive, consistent take on climate questions judging by the increasing engagement they have had with them, and specifically the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals were set by the UN in 2015 and adopted by all UN member states to provide a shared blueprint for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet”. Using the latest academic research and the previously adopted Millennium Goals as a basis, the SDGs set out dozens of targets across 17 broad areas to be achieved by 2030.

Given the level of buy in from governments, it is perhaps not surprising that several of them started to fund research programs that were aligned to the SDGs, and at the same time research groups were focused on aligning themselves to global-scale mission-driven research goals. It was only a matter of time until academic publishers started to reflect this realignment in research strategies, and in recent years we have seen publishers such as Emerald and Taylor & Francis launch SDG-related publishing platforms. [Disclosure: I worked at Emerald from 2003-2018)

Moreover, discovery and data services have also been keen to fulfil new pathways into SDG-related research, with Scopus recently announcing SDG details being added to documents and Dimensions having added SDG search filters back in 2020. When you add university rankings from the likes of Times Higher using SDGs to derive their impact rankings it seems that higher education and academic research are awash with SDG-related data. And there is more to come. A number of pilots have been reported on based around the SDGs, including one I have been involved in with Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University which uses AI to attribute an ‘SDG Impact Intensity’ rating to journals depending on their relevance to the UN goals. 

However, one question still remains for all these initiatives: do they actually help ensure the UN SDGs are achieved by 2030? One group that is seeking to answer that question has been born out of the SDGs themselves in respect to SDG number 17: ‘Partnerships for the Goals’. Under the auspices of the UN Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, a Fellows Group has recently started meeting, populated by representatives from those academic publishers which have signed the UN SDG Publishers Compact. The group have started a number of projects that have the broad aim of ensuring various publishing initiatives fulfil their potential to support delivery of the SDGs. If the new group collaborates as effectively as SDG #17 envisaged, then scholarly communications should be satisfied that it has ‘done its bit’ for a better world, and also ensured frameworks based on action and achievement replace traditional metrics that have been unable to achieve such outcomes.

About the Author: Simon Linacre has worked in scholarly publishing for almost 20 years. His background is in journalism, and he has been published in academic journals on the topics of bibliometrics, publication ethics and research impact. He has two Masters degrees in Philosophy and International Business, and has global experience lecturing to researchers on publishing strategies. Simon is a Trustee of COPE and a tutor with ALPSP.


  1. Derek Law

    Having COP26 here in Glasgow gave a warm feeling of a world uniting to take action, albeit slowly, over the great threat of climate change. But the winter since then has made this personal and urgent. I have had family in California racing to escape wildfires, a dear friend in New South Wales, Australia stranded in his house surrounded by 12 feet of water – 6 months rain in two days, and in the last three weeks seen transport in Scotland grind to a halt as 800,000 (yes eight hundred thousand!) trees were felled by storms. So it is up to all of us individually and collectivelyto act NOW rather than wait for the promises of politicians that all will be well in ten or twenty years time. So every respect to the Fellows Group described in the blog. Actions most certainly speak louder than words.

  2. Simon Linacre

    Many thanks Derek for your comment, and I am sure you speak for most people when you cite personal experience of the impact of climate change as a sign for everyone to start taking action.

  3. Rossana Morriello

    I think that publishers are following a trend that is already present in society, not leading the road to sustainable development and Agenda 2030 but rather following a road already open and increasingly perceived as crucial. Many researchers are involved in research topics related to SDGs, even because there are funds granted specifically for research on these topics, both at a national level in many countries (as in my country, Italy) and from the European Community. Also, in Italy actions for the Agenda 2030 start to be considered in research assessment.
    Nevertheless, there is still a need to spread knowledge and awareness about SDGs, also in academia. Therefore, publishers initiatives can help in this and, consequently, indirectly help ensure the UN SDGs are achieved, since research on these topics is essential to achieve them.

  4. Simon Linacre

    Thanks for your comments about Italy, Rossana – it is great to hear researchers are starting to be recognised for their efforts to support the SDGs, and hopefully this will become more widespread sooner rather than later. At Digital Science, some products and services help connect researchers and the SDGs, such as the recently added SDG filter on Dimensions (https://www.dimensions.ai/blog/dimensions-includes-new-research-category-filters-for-sustainable-development-goals/)


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