The Critical Role of Infrastructure for the Sustainable Development Goals

Written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, January 18, 2019.

Summary for the GSC by Christine Bullen

This essay from The Economist and supported by UNOPS provides an excellent examination of the critical role that infrastructure – of all sorts – plays in providing a foundation for achieving global social and environmental goals. A key question is whether providing services to people – which is the role of infrastructure – can be achieved a way that is both resilient and sustainable.

Sustainability is considered and measured in its three major dimensions:

  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Social

Fundamentally all forms of infrastructure from transportation to the provision of sanitation and clean water are intimately connected to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by UN member states. Infrastructure assets can offer solutions but they must minimize negative impacts and maximise the positive ones in all three dimensions of the economy, society and the environment.

The essay has three chapters addressing the roles of infrastructure: the benefits of infrastructure, barriers to delivering sustainable infrastructure and best practices.

In Chapter 1, the benefits of infrastructure described are vast. Economically, infrastructure can stem economic losses and drive economic growth in a variety of ways such as supporting jobs growth. From the environmental perspective, infrastructure can work to protect the environment by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, removal of carbon dioxide through “green infrastructure” such as green roofs in urban areas. Infrastructure underpins social progress by improving quality of life and enhancing human dignity. The essay provides many compelling examples in this chapter and finishes up this discussion with one on the importance of resilience in the face of modern complexity and the inability to predict the future.

The second chapter addresses the growing demands for infrastructure in view of the increasing worldwide population.This demand requires increased spending, but the world is delivering funding constraints and fundamental resource gaps, such as a lack of skilled human resources in critical areas such as engineering, technical specialists and urban planners. Moreover, there are a number of governance issues that are reflected in policy development that is sadly too short term, rife with competing priorities, and poor evaluation of the needs of all stakeholders.

The essay finishes up with ideas for ways forward in Chapter three. One important way is to view infrastructure as a system of interlinked assets rather than as individual projects. Another important path is through innovative finance, such as green bonds and public-private partnerships.

Finally there are three case studies illustrating innovative approaches to creating infrastructure that meets the criteria stated in the essay.

There is great need for building resilient, sustainable infrastructure and to be successful it is critical that infrastructure be seen as a portfolio of interconnected assets. This fundamental view is essential in achieving the SDGs and ensuring a better world economically, socially and environmentally.


Link to the complete essay: Click Here