Sustainable infrastructure is close to my heart. First of all, sustainable principles for infrastructure are crucial to mitigating its negative effects, with infrastructure accounting for around 60% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Moreover, infrastructure projects such as dams and railways can disrupt communities severely. But beyond mitigating negative effects, sustainable infrastructure also holds many opportunities if its positive potential is maximised. Sustainable infrastructure lies at the very heart of efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, I was very excited to be the lead editor of a new Economist Intelligence Unit project on The critical role of infrastructure for the Sustainable Development Goals, launched for Davos 2019.
Our study shows that sustainable infrastructure can only be delivered when all three pillars—economic, environmental and social—are considered together. All stakeholders have to collaborate in planning, design, delivery and management. We have to move away from treating infrastructure projects as individual investments; instead, we have to view them as part of a system that comprises a portfolio of interlinked assets that provide essential services for society.
Highlights from the research:
- A new report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) argues that infrastructure projects should not be viewed as individual investments, but rather as a part of a system that comprises a portfolio of interlinked assets that provide essential services for society.
- Sustainable infrastructure holds great potential to deliver the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, environmental and social sustainability.
- But delivering sustainable infrastructure faces major challenges, such as governance weaknesses, financing gaps and siloed approaches.
- From new forms of finance to the use of digital technologies, new approaches to sustainable infrastructure are emerging. Best-practice case studies include the Global Infrastructure Project Pipeline and the Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility.
Infrastructure should not be viewed as individual investments, but rather as a part of a system that comprises a portfolio of interlinked assets that provide essential services for society. This is the key finding of a new study released today by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Entitled “The critical role of infrastructure for the Sustainable Development Goals”, the study is supported by UNOPS, the UN organisation with a core mandate for infrastructure.
The EIU study found that the economic dividends of infrastructure range from the jobs created during construction and maintenance to its ability to generate economic activity (such as a bridge that links a rural village to urban markets). In protecting the environment, infrastructure assets can also play a key role in conserving natural resources and reducing the impact of climate change. Clean energy generation plants, for example, are critical in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Moreover, when equitable access is assured, society benefits from infrastructure since it delivers the services (such as power supplies, healthcare services and sewerage networks) that are essential for sustainable development.
What emerges from the study is that major challenges—from governance weaknesses to financing gaps—make it difficult to deliver sustainable infrastructure. Added to this are the challenges of siloed approaches, both within government and between sectors and different parts of the infrastructure ecosystem.
To overcome these challenges the study explored a range of emerging approaches, such as new forms of finance and the use of digital technologies. The study highlighted a number of best-practice case studies, such as the Global Infrastructure Project Pipeline, the Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility and a stormwater retention scheme in Washington, DC.