U of A rises to sixth in the world for sustainability impact

University ranks first in North America in Times Higher Education’s ranking of institutions making progress on achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Aerial view of Edmonton. (Photo: Richard Siemens)

The University of Alberta has risen to sixth in the world and first in North America in the latest Times Higher Education rankings of institutions making progress on achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. (Photo: Richard Siemens)

The University of Alberta ranks sixth in the world and first in North America for its work to address humanity’s greatest sustainability challenges, according to the 2024 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings released today.

The U of A moved up from seventh in the world and second in Canada in last year’s rankings, which assess universities’ performance against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) based on indicators of research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.

“I am thrilled to see that the University of Alberta has moved up in these international rankings for the third straight year,” says U of A president Bill Flanagan. “This continued success is a recognition of the incredible work happening at our university to solve sustainability challenges from local to global and a reflection of our core commitment to sustainability as identified in Shape, our strategic plan of impact.

“As one of the top universities in Canada and the world, we have the people, the partnerships and the resources to take a leading role as the world strives for a more sustainable future.”

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The need for universities to focus research and programs on tackling those problems has never been greater, says Robert Summers, director of the U of A’s Sustainability Council, which develops learning opportunities and supports interdisciplinary programming across the university’s three colleges and 17 faculties. 

“As these rankings show, the U of A excels in many areas that will be fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: seeking energy solutions that are environmentally responsible, preparing for future pandemics and developing new agricultural technologies to help feed the world, to name just a few.”

The U of A ranked second worldwide and first in Canada for SDG 14, Life Below Water. Researchers in this area are working to understand how climate change is affecting ocean life and stem the spread of invasive marine species.

The university ranked fourth in the world and second in Canada for SDG 2, Zero Hunger. With a strategic focus on agriculture and food as an area of growth in global excellence, the U of A is home to North America’s leading hub of agricultural research and teaching on its South Campus. It also leads by example through campus-based projects like the Green and Gold Community Garden, with proceeds supporting marginalized women in Rwanda.

The U of A also placed seventh in the world and first in Canada for SDG 15, Life on Land. Researchers in this area are revealing insights into human coexistence with wildlife, the potential effects of climate change on challenges such as drought and insect pests, and the value of Indigenous resource management practices for improving the health of ecosystems and the people who live in them. 

The university also ranked among the world’s top 10 and first in Canada for SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. The U of A is a world leader in research on artificial intelligence and its societal implications, with applications ranging from wildfire responses and agriculture to health technology and many more. In October 2023, the university launched its donor-supported Innovation Fund to invest in startups and entrepreneurs working to solve global challenges. And earlier this year, the university teamed up with Amazon Web Services to launch Artificial Intelligence Discovery Place, giving researchers and entrepreneurs access to cloud computing technology to accelerate discoveries and making AI training more accessible for Edmonton’s burgeoning tech sector.

Other high-ranking areas for the U of A included SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals (tied for 27th worldwide; tied for first in Canada), SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation (tied for 39th), SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production (tied for 45th) and SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being (tied for 48th). 

Cen Huang, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), says the U of A’s international partnerships are a critical component of its contributions toward achieving these goals in Canada and around the world.

“Global challenges require global solutions,” she notes. “As part of the global community, post-secondary institutions must actively participate in and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. When we engage with our international partners to share expertise, resources, ideas and innovations, these collaborations can truly create transformational impact at home and abroad. 

“Our ranking confirms that those partnerships are making a real difference in addressing the issues facing our planet and our society today.”

The U of A’s rise in these rankings continues a trend of upward progress in several prominent global rankings. Earlier this month, the university climbed to 96th worldwide and fourth in Canada in the 2025 QS World University Rankings, driven partly by a 28th-place finish in the QS Sustainability Rankings released in December.

Earlier last year, the university placed 109th globally in the 2024 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, up nine places from the previous year and 27 places since 2020. It also had its best performance in the history of the Academic Ranking of World Universities, ranking 91st in the world and fourth in Canada.

This year, Times Higher Education evaluated 2,152 universities from 125 countries and regions for the Impact Rankings, the most since the inaugural release of the rankings in 2019.