Metrics for the sustainable development goals: renewable energy and transportation

Palgrave Communications. 2019;5(1):1-14 DOI 10.1057/s41599-019-0336-4


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Palgrave Communications

ISSN: 2055-1045 (Online)

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

LCC Subject Category: Social Sciences

Country of publisher: United Kingdom

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Jonathan J. Buonocore (Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Ernani Choma (Population Health Sciences, Harvard University)
Aleyda H. Villavicencio (Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
John D. Spengler (Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Dinah A. Koehler (UBS Asset Management)
John S. Evans (Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Jos Lelieveld (Atmospheric Chemistry Department, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry)
Piet Klop (PGGM)
Ramon Sanchez-Pina (Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 19 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

Abstract The private sector is interested in contributing to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); however, they lack credible objective metrics to measure progress, which hinders making a case for financial investing toward the SDGs. A set of science-based metrics could allow corporations and interested investors to meaningfully align their actions with the SDGs in locations around the world where they can make the greatest positive impact. Using existing data on country-level electricity generation and land transportation, we develop a set of simple-to-implement and user-friendly metrics to evaluate the benefits that investments in renewable electricity generation and improvements in land transportation can make toward reducing CO2 and air pollutant emissions and the health impacts of air pollution. We then apply these metrics to a set of renewable electricity companies and find meaningful differences in their progress toward the SDGs on health, energy, and climate. We found that under half of the renewable energy companies in our dataset disclose country-level data on where equipment is being sold, and that there is substantial variability in the CO2 reductions and health benefits of renewable energy based on where these companies have installed capacity. There was not a close statistical relationship between country CO2 emissions rates and country health impact rates, indicating that these metrics cannot serve as good proxies for one another. Future improvements to this methodology should be to implement explicit tracking of air pollution from sources to the locations where it has eventual health impacts, updating the underlying dataset, and improving the degree of detail in emissions inventories. Application of this methodology across the renewable energy sector is limited by the availability of country-level data on where a company has renewable energy capacity installed. The methodology developed here can serve as a basis for better measurement of progress toward climate, energy, and health-related SDGs in financial investing and other applications.