Fate of SDGs depends on infrastructure

4 Apr 19

Massive global infrastructure investment worth $2.3 trillion per year could block progress in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals if it is not used sustainably.  

In a call for governments to place sustainability at the heart of infrastructure planning, a new report warns that poor decisions could lock-in patterns of unsustainable development for years to come.

The analysis published in Nature Sustainability says that while the SDG targets’ deadline of 2030 may seem a long way off, their success or failure will be determined by what happens now.

“Sustainable infrastructure serves the needs of people and works with nature, keeping us on track to bring carbon emissions to zero and designed to be resilient to climatic extremes and other shocks,” said co-author Jim Hall, professor of climate and environmental risks at the University of Oxford. 

“It is better to build in sustainability from the start – right now – rather than having to apply costly retrofits later.”

The report by the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), UN, World Bank and other international partners suggests that global targets relating to poverty, health, the environment, peace and justice will rely on infrastructure systems.

It shows how planning decisions around energy, water, waste management, transport, and telecommunications systems could decide the outcome of the SDGs.

Sustainable infrastructure is better-designed and will save money in the long-term, said Prof Hall.

To ensure the right infrastructure decisions are made now, the report argues that policymakers need to establish long-term visions for sustainable national infrastructure systems, informed by the SDGs, and develop adaptable plans to  deliver them.

The report’s lead author, Dr Scott Thacker, a senior analyst at the United Nations Office for Project Services, said: “Using the SDGs as a common framework, this research provides governments and their development partners with key evidence to make better-informed infrastructure decisions – helping to ensure a more sustainable future for all.”

The Global Infrastructure Hub, set up by the G20, has esimated $2.3 trillion of capital investment is spend annually by governments around the world on infrastructure.  

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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