Infrastructure as an economic imperative and essential ingredient of all the UN’s SDGs

The UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) landmark report addresses how infrastructure helps meet sustainable development goals.

Launched at the prestigious Global Engineering Congress in London in October 2018, the report, Infrastructure: Underpinning Sustainable Development, examines the role that infrastructure plays in helping the UN member states to achieve the 17 critically important Sustainable Development Goals for a more sustainable future worldwide.

Infrastructure’s essential part in Sustainable Development Goals

Infrastructure is specifically referenced in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in several of the UN’s 17 SDG goals, including industry, innovation and infrastructure; clean water and sanitation; and affordable and clean energy. Other types of infrastructure such as education, healthcare and rule of law are pervasive across the other goals.

The research found that:

  • Networked infrastructure such as energy, transportation, water, waste management and digital communications influences 17% of SDG targets
  • Non-networked infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, community centres, government buildings and industrial facilities influence 81% of targets.

Introducing the report, UNOPS Executive Director Grete Faremo said: “Infrastructure, in particular, underpins all of the SDGs. It plays a critical role in society because it can influence development far into the future — both positively and negatively. This is why it is vital to understand the influence that infrastructure systems have on the SDGs.”

Global infrastructure investment is estimated by Global Infrastructure Outlook to be $97 trillion by 2040.

Infrastructure’s role beyond climate change to economy and productivity

As well as working with UNOPS on this important report, the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium has developed the world’s first infrastructure system-of-systems model (NISMOD) which offers groundbreaking opportunities to analyse long-term planning for interdependent performance and delivery of services across major infrastructure sectors – transport, energy, water, solid waste management, digital communications.

Its current work programme MISTRAL (Multi-Scale Infrastructure Systems Analytics) goes further to create an integrated analytics capability to analyse interdependencies and better inform infrastructure decision-making on projects from local to national, to global. This is the first time that interdependencies have been able to be mapped and researched on this scale.

Professor of Climate and Environmental Risk at the University of Oxford and Director of ITRC, Jim Hall, adds, “Though our research started from a sustainability perspective, in particular the central role that infrastructure has in climate change mitigation and adaptation, our work has attracted growing attention from finance ministries and infrastructure units that tend to be focused on the role of infrastructure in economic growth and productivity.”

In that sense, infrastructure can be a ‘Trojan horse’ that brings sustainability considerations within the purview of the economic imperatives of most governments.

Research investigates real-life situations

ITRC’s research for the Underpinning Sustainable Development Report is based on real-life projects implemented by UNOPS around the world, from agriculture to urban water supply and rural access.

The case-study based research provides concrete examples of how infrastructure is contributing to sustainable development in practice and to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.