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Global sustainability is local

February 2020: Progress towards realising the UN’s SDGs by 2030 is generally measured at the global level. However, recent evidence points towards sustainability being most effective and deliverable at the local level. The localisation of sustainability requires careful balancing between competing sectors to avoid achieving progress in one area and decreasing or reversing progress in another.


Researchers embarked on a mission to assess progress towards the SDGs, which offers a roadmap to build a more sustainable future. Review of countries’ progress showed that there is no singular ‘sustainability’ score, but that each sector is interrelated and requires a balanced approach at the local level. The publication coincides with the UN’s initiative to guide business help achieve the SDGs by 2030 which provides, amongst others, investment directions. The research aims to understand gains, losses, and trade-offs between poverty and inequality reduction, climate change mitigation, environmental restauration, and their impacts on a country’s prosperity, peace and justice.

Implications and opportunities

Engaging with the assessment, the researchers conclude that sustainability measurement is most impactful and deliverable at the local level. The study forms the basis for policy developments and policy recommendations to avoid progress in one area hampering or even reversing progress in other areas. It offers guidance on performance measurement and identifies education, healthcare, and environmental conservation policies as main triggers for progress.


The assessment draws from different models and all results should be seen within its methodological context, which leads to the inclusion and exclusion of specific sustainability dimensions.


Zhenci, X., Chau, S., N., Chen, X., (2020). Assessing progress towards sustainable development over space and time. Nature, 577 (7788), 74.

BusinessGreen (2020). UN Global Compact launches new initiative to spur decade of private sector progress towards the SDGs. Retrieved from


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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.