Search By Topic


The Top 30 Global Sustainability Research Papers in 2019

In 2019, record-high global temperatures and climate change took central stage in global news headlines, culminating with a declaration from more than 11,000 scientists from around the world that a climate emergency exists on Earth. This declaration got people talking on social media and in the news, more so than any other scientific publication in 2019.

Altmetric annually ranks the 100 scientific papers that glean the most media attention as a simple measure of what sparks public interest. In 2019, they examined over 62 million media mentions of 2.7 million research articles. The altmetric score does not measure the calibre of the research or researcher.

At Future Earth, we used the list to identify the top 30 global sustainability articles. We were guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, combating inequality within and among countries, preserving the planet, creating sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and fostering social inclusion are linked to each other and are interdependent.

Taking a closer look at the top five, the rising threat posed by climate change (SDG 13) was a central concern in 2019 as reflected by this year’s top two papers. The health of our oceans (SDG 14) and global terrestrial biodiversity (SDG 15) also find their way into the top five, with the third ranked paper discussing increasing vulnerability to sea level rise and coastal flooding, while the fourth ranked paper examines the potential of global reforestation to mitigate the effects of climate change. Rounding out the top five, a global study between 1990-2017 analyzed the health effects linked to dietary risks (SDG 3). Together, these papers reflect the many connections among natural and human systems by highlighting just how important the life supporting SDGs (6, 13, 14, and 15) are to supporting healthy, equitable, and sustainable livelihoods on Earth.

Of the top 30, nearly half of the global sustainability articles are concerned with climate change, with another third related to health, nutrition, and climate. Papers discussing biodiversity and plastics also make their way onto the list.

Read on for the full top 30 of 2019 and see earlier lists here (January – April 2019), here (May – August 2019) and here (2018 in review).

The top 30 global sustainability articles in 2019, by Altmetric score:

  1. World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency (November 2019) BioScience. Altmetric score: 10,966
  2. Climate tipping points too risky to bet against (November 2019) Nature. Altmetric score: 8556
  3. New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding (October 2019) Nature Communications. Altmetric score: 7,135
  4. The global tree restoration potential (July 2019) Science. Altmetric score: 6,356
  5. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (April 2019) The Lancet. Altmetric score: 5,868
  6. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers (April 2019) Biological Conservation. Altmetric score: 5,438
  7. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable foods (February 2019) The Lancet. Altmetric score: 4,561
  8. Committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5°C climate target (August 2019) Nature. Altmetric score: 4,434
  9. Concerns of young protesters are justified (April 2019) Science. Altmetric score: 4,349
  10. Global warming impairs stock-recruitment dynamics of corals (April 2019) Nature. Altmetric score: 4,121
  11. Eat less meat: UN climate-change report calls for change to human diet (August 2019) Nature. Altmetric score: 3,861
  12. No evidence for globally coherent warm and cold periods over the preindustrial Common Era (July 2019) Nature. Altmetric score: 3,898
  13. Decline of the North American avifauna (October 2019) Science. Altmetric score: 3,368
  14. Earth system impacts of the European arrival and the Great Dying in the Americas after 1492 (March 2019) Quaternary Science Reviews. Altmetric score: 3,290
  15. Spending at least 120 minutes in a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing (June 2019) Scientific Reports. Altmetric score: 3,249
  16. Permafrost collapse is accelerating carbon release (April 2019) Nature. Altmetric score: 3,014
  17. The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission Report (February 2019) The Lancet. Altmetric score: 2,973
  18. How fast are the oceans warming? (January 2019) Science. Altmetric score: 2,882
  19. Acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas over the past 40 years (June 2019) Science Advances. Altmetric score: 2,767
  20. The 2019 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by climate change (November 2019) The Lancet. Altmetric score: 2,752
  21. 40 years ago, scientists predicted climate change. And hey, they were right (July 2019) The Conversation. Altmetric score: 2,724
  22. Ice sheet contributions to future sea level rise from structured expert judgment (May 2019) PNAS. Altmetric score: 2,620
  23. Dissecting racial bias in an algorithm used to manage the health of populations (October 2019) Science. Altmetric score: 2,584.
  24. International humanitarian norms are violated in Hong Kong (December 2019) The Lancet. Altmetric score: 2,538
  25. Four decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance from 1979-2017 (January 2019) PNAS. Altmetric score: 2,494
  26. Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers (April 2019) Frontiers in Psychology. Altmetric score: 2,312
  27. Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea (September 2019) Environmental Science and Technology. Altmetric score: 2,305
  28. White and wonderful? Microplastics prevail in snow from the Alps to the Arctic (August 2019) Science Advances. Altmetric score: 2,253
  29. Arthropod decline in grasslands and forests is associated with landscape-level drivers (October 2019) Nature. Altmetric score: 2,240
  30. Nudging out support for a carbon tax (May 2019) Nature Climate Change. Altmetric score: 2,190