Research Themes

Four research themes have been identified to create a research agenda that addresses the complex intersecting problems reflected in the SDGs and inform future global goals.

The SDGs@UofT research themes addresses multiple SDGs and illuminate ways in which they interact to prevent or enable sustainable development.

Establishing transition pathways for sustainability

Sustainability transitions refer to the process through which entire sectors such as energy, food, or transportation change fundamentally. Transition pathways are defined as semi-coherent patterns of major changes in the configuration of a socio-technical system, which are subject to continual processes of political contestation. They provide a useful approach to planetary health and help to understand, define, and implement the way change can happen at a systems-level and identify bottlenecks to overcome. This thematic area will provide an opportunity to further address the inter-dependencies of the SDGs, understand transition pathways towards achieving the interrelated goals, and enable the major shifts required to create sustainable transition pathways.

Measuring progress towards achieving the SDGs

Sustainability indicators measure the progress of sustainable development and facilitate decision-making processes. While the richer nature of the SDGs represents progress, it also gives rise to certain measurement challenges. The 17 SDGs comprise 169 targets and 232 indicators to monitor progress toward the achievement of social, economic, and environmental goals before the end of 2030. Bertelsmann Stiftung (BS) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) devised the SDG Index in 2015 as a composite system to benchmark the performance of countries across the SDGs. An updated version of the Index was released in 2017. The SDG indicators considered for the SDG Index have been criticized based on data availability. Indicators with extensive available data are a key factor in constructing useful composite indices as integrated frameworks to appraise the achievement of the SDGs at a country scale.

Designing interventions and instruments for sustainability

Effective instruments and interventions (e.g., policies, programs, strategies) that influence efforts to reform the SDGs as we begin to imagine the post Agenda 2030 for the SDGs. As such, effective and cohesive mechanisms that can balance the interactions between the economic, social, and environmental goals are needed. This thematic area will facilitate and enable research that investigates how instruments for sustainable development need to change to better support progress on the SDGs and future iterations of global goals.

Exploring dynamic synergies among the SDGs

The SDGs aim to tackle multiple complex challenges. They are implicitly interdependent and, as such, it is possible to have conflicting interactions that produce diverging results. To be effective, the interdependencies among the SDGs should be further evaluated both across and within the SDGs. Similar challenges have emerged with attempts to: align climate change adaptation and mitigation response; alleviate poverty; balance economic development, environmental sustainability; and enable social inclusion for human well-being. This initiative will enable a systematic, data-driven analysis of synergies or trade-offs between all SDGs and SDG indicators and guide the development of future goals.

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