According to the global 2020 SDG Index, China ranks 48th out of 166 countries in terms of SDG performances, with a score of 73.9. At the national level, this suggests a capacity of balancing different aspects of development, exploiting their synergies and reducing the trade-offs. Yet, the strong heterogeneity in the level and type of sustainable development experienced by China’s provinces encourages further investigation about the interaction between different aspects of development and subnational policies. In the paper “China’s subnational policies and the performance of provinces towards meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals” – written by Mario Biggeri, ARCO’s Scientific Director, Luca Bortolotti, University of Turin, Andrea Ferrannini, Local Development Unit Coordinator, and Donatella Saccone, University of Gastronomic Sciences, and published on Regional Studies, Regional Sciences (2023, vol.10) – explores China’s provinces progress towards SDGs localization in order to shed light on existing local imbalances and trade-offs between goals and, thus, between environmental versus other aspects of economic and social development.
The localization of the SDGs is a key element both in terms of strategies for the sustainability transition and analysis of the different subnational dynamics of sustainable development processes. Indeed, SDG localization is conceived as the process of transforming the SDGs into reality at the local level, in coherence with the national frameworks and in line with communities’ priorities. Therefore, SDGs localization means placing territories and communities at the centre of sustainable development, a two-way process where the local meets the national and the global, and vice versa.
In this context, China has gained considerable attention due to its impressive socio-economic achievements, which led to a rapid but unbalanced transformation. Monetary poverty has reduced dramatically, but the overall progress has not always been harmonious or sustainable due to rising inequality, environmental pollution and strong provincial disparities. In response, China’s policymakers, aware of internal economic and social imbalances, have for the past decade proposed political strategies oriented towards a more environmentally sustainable and balanced development and sought to enhance the country’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by mobilizing resources at national and subnational levels.
China records quite balanced scores across the different goals; for this reason, indexes that penalize heterogeneity across goals (via non-compensatory aggregation methods) assign an even higher positioning to China. The integrated sustainable development (ISD) index is introduced to obtain a comparable measure of the achievements towards the Agenda 2030 at the subnational level that fully embraces the integrated nature of sustainable development and accounts for synergies and trade-offs across its components. The ISD index values are then used in cluster, convergence and econometric analyses to explore the characteristics of sustainable development at the provincial level between 2015 and 2019 and the related synergies and trade-offs.
The findings of this study are relevant for both researchers and policymakers. For scholars engaged in SDG analysis, this study offers a robust method for aggregating subnational SDG performances and comparing them across time and with other countries. For policymakers, it both provides a better understanding of how China’s existing policies may positively or negatively influence the achievement of various SDGs, and offers monitoring tools to shape policies at both national and provincial levels, in alignment with the 2030 Agenda vision for the betterment of humanity and its common future.
The paper is available for download in full Open Access here