New paper highlights dangers of locking in patterns of unsustainable global infrastructure spend

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 man-made hazards, or in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by 193 countries in 2015.

A new paper, Infrastructure for Sustainable Development, published in the reputed journal Nature Sustainability, demonstrates how foundational infrastructure is to attaining the SDGs, inextricably linked with 72% of the targets.

Poorly-built or unsustainable infrastructure can have catastrophic impact on our economic, social, government and personal lives, says the new paper from University of Oxford and UNOPS

“There are massive investments being made now in infrastructure which will lock in patterns of unsustainable development for years to come,” explains Professor Jim Hall of University of Oxford.

“This is a grave concern when poorly-built or unsustainable infrastructure has such 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.”

Scott Thacker of UNOPS adds, “With $2.3 trillion being spent per year on global capital infrastructure investment, funding is at an all time high. However, in some areas of the world there is still a lack of the most basic infrastructure, infrastructure that’s designed to satisfy future population growth, or to protect society from the harmful impacts of climate change.

Sustainable infrastructure positively impacts patterns of behaviour and development

The paper focuses on the interplay between the physical and societal aspects of infrastructure systems, such as how long-lived assets shape future patterns of behaviour and development.

It classifies direct and indirect influences of infrastructure services on SDG goals and target outcomes. It also identifies functions where the infrastructure provides a unique contribution to the SDG target, and those where a pair or more than one infrastructure provides a shared contribution to the SDG target.

The paper’s methodology and findings will be of interest to policy makers in government, investment banks, NGOs, developers involved in infrastructure projects, as well as researchers and academics.

The research was led by  Scott Thacker, senior analyst at United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and Honorary Research Associate at the Environmental Change institute, University of Oxford, Jim Hall, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks [and Director of the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium], and, and doctoral student Daniel Adshead. They worked closely with other researchers from the, World Bank, the Interamerican Development Bank (IADB), Department for International Development and GIZ, the German development bank.