Evenness is important in assessing progress towards sustainable development goals

October 26, 2020

This study proposes a systematic method, which first integrates both the evenness and the overall status of all goals, to distinguish the ideal development pathways from the uneven ones. The results suggest that, despite the remarkable progress, a bottleneck has been reached in China since 2013 due to the stagnant developments in some SDGs. However, many far-reaching policies in China have been targeting these deficiencies since then, providing a perspective on how a country approaches sustainable development by promoting evenness among all SDGs.

At the regional level, all provinces had increased evenness score and sustainable development score from 2000 to 2015 (Fig. 1). Notably, regions with the slowest progress are those developed provinces, owing to the persistent uneven status of all goals. The effective development scores were further used to quantify the progress of 31 provinces towards SDGs from 2000 to 2015 through assessing the developing pathway (Fig. 2). Four of the top five economically developed regions had nearly no improvement from 2000 to 2015 (namely, Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and Jiangsu). The bottleneck for economically developed regions in approaching SDGs is mainly ascribed to the resource and environmental constraints derived from their high population density along with urbanization.

Moreover, the 31 provinces were divided into four categories in terms of their relative status towards sustainable development in 2015 (Fig. 3). According to their current status, the relatively underdeveloped and uneven regions may collaborate in a complementary way towards SDGs, particularly beneficial for economically developed regions (mostly uneven). For instance, the stagnant progress in SDG 15 (life on land) in Beijing may be improved by collaborating with its surrounding regions (e.g., Hebei, which has much lower GDP per capita than Beijing) on ecological conservation. A feasible ecological compensation for Hebei province and the industrial relocation from Beijing to Hebei should help with the conservation and restoration of natural habitats in Beijing and its surrounding areas, and also help Hebei achieve economic development. Regional integration and cooperation might be effective in holistically achieving SDGs across regions.

By integrating all these findings, evenness expands the implications of sustainable development assessment and helps the government to match adaptive strategies to places. Moreover, the methods proposed in the present study can be applied to the rest of the world since they generally follow the widely adopted methods in data selection, normalization, and calculation of SDG scores. Overall, the study provides a new perspective on how a country approaches sustainable development by promoting evenness among all SDGs.
See the article:

Liu YL†, Du JQ†, Wang YF*, Cui XY, Dong JC, Hao YB, Xue K, Duan HB, Xia AQ, Hu Y, Dong Z, Wu BF, Zhao XQ, Fu BJ, 2020. Evenness is important in achieving sustainable development goals. National Science Review. DOI:10.1093/nsr/nwaa1238.


Science China Press

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