Infrastructure is not currently developed to support achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Poorly-built or unsustainable infrastructure has a dramatic impact on our economic, social, government and personal lives. Further, investment in unsustainable infrastructure can bequeath future generations with debt whilst failing to meet the most basic infrastructure essentials such as water, sanitation and energy. Despite $2.3 trillion[i] being spent per year on global capital infrastructure investment, and funding being at an all-time high, some areas of the world still lack the most basic infrastructure, infrastructure that’s designed to satisfy future population growth, or to protect society from the harmful impacts of climate change.
ITRC and UNOPS worked together to develop a new tool, SustainABLE, designed to harness research published in the prestigious journal Nature Sustainability which found that fulfilment of the majority of SDG targets will depend on infrastructure systems.
Built well, infrastructure can demonstrably and positively contribute to areas from economic prosperity and employment to health and education and the safeguarding of the planet’s natural resources. However, costly infrastructure is not always planned properly for the long-term, in consideration of the impact of one infrastructure on another, to take into account vulnerability to natural or manmade hazards, or in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by 193 countries in 2015. The paper demonstrates how foundational infrastructure is to attaining the SDGs, inextricably linked with 72% of the targets.
Sustainable infrastructure which is better-designed will save money in the long-term, the research found. The sustainABLE tool is now providing development practitioners with real-world practical actions to ensure that their infrastructure project supports achievement of the different targets of the SDGs.
Results & insights
SustainABLE is a resource for development practitioners to provide real-world and practical actions to ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is the first time that the SDGs have been captured in this way, providing a very clear walkthrough and step-by-step guide to understand the influence of infrastructure on each target and provide tangible actions for ensuring that influence is realised.
The new SustainABLE tool will be a central plank in establishing how infrastructure can help satisfy the SDGs.
Currently, the tool showcases the influence of infrastructure on the SDG targets that relate to the first cross-cutting theme: ‘gender’. Women’s empowerment is a key area within the SDGs with a goal, SDG 5 ‘Gender Equality’, focused specifically on the topic. Beyond SDG 5, another 10 of the 17 goals, including 32 SDG targets, directly reference gender-related issues.
The tool can be used to inform actions that can be undertaken while implementing infrastructure projects to support the achievement of gender-related SDG targets. Further, the recommended list of actions and activities differ with respect to the infrastructure sector, as well as what can be done during the different stages of the project lifecycle: planning, delivery, and management.
SustainABLE demonstrates actions for a range of project practitioners from energy to water, waste, transport, digital communications, education, healthcare and other social infrastructure to ensure progress is made towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
The tool can help policy makers to establish long term visions for sustainable national infrastructure systems, informed by the SDGs, and develop adaptable plans that can demonstrably deliver their vision.
Most recently, the tool has been applied to strengthen the investment case for individual projects in Ghana, thereby supporting the Government of Ghana to align their infrastructure investment pipeline to the targets of the SDGs. (link to Ghana Application section in the other document).
A theme on Nature-based solutions and one on climate change action is due to be launched in 2021.
[i] [Global Infrastructure Outlook: 2017 (Global Infrastructure Hub, 2017).
United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and University of Oxford-led Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC)
Nature Sustainability, ‘Infrastructure for sustainable development’, Vol 2, April 2019, Thacker, S et al.