New tool set to ensure global infrastructure development is sustainable

A new tool from the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and University of Oxford-led Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) has been launched to ensure that infrastructure is developed to support achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs were adopted in 2015 and agreed by 193 countries from developing and emerging nations to developed countries. They were designed to create a better and more sustainable future for people worldwide.

A recent study published in the prestigious journal Nature Sustainability has found that fulfilment of the majority of SDG targets will depend on infrastructure systems.

Sustainable infrastructure is better-designed and will save money in the long-term, explains co-author and Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks at the University of Oxford, Jim Hall:

“Global spend on infrastructure investment is set to reach $97 trillion by 2040 but this money could be spent more wisely, creating infrastructure that works with nature to serve the needs of the people, keeping us on track to bring carbon emission to zero, and that is designed to be resilient to climatic extremes and other shocks.”

The new tool, SustainABLE, has been to designed to harness this fundamental research – providing development practitioners with real-world practical actions to ensure that their infrastructure project supports achievement of the different targets of the SDGs.

Scott Thacker, senior analyst at the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), explains, “We’ve created SustainABLE as an easy to follow online tool available to anyone who wants to ensure the SDGs are at the heart of their infrastructure projects. 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.”

SustainABLE demonstrates how infrastructure systems from energy to water, waste, transport, digital communications, education, healthcare and other social infrastructure can help to ensure progress is made towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Jim Hall comments, “Infrastructure investment is at an all-time high globally. An ever-increasing number of decisions are being made now that will lock-in patterns of development for future generations. It’s critical that policy makers establish long term visions for sustainable national infrastructure systems, informed by the SDGs, and develop adaptable plans that can demonstrably deliver their vision. The new SustainABLE tool will be a central plank in establishing how infrastructure can help satisfy the SDGs.”

SustainABLE’s first module is now available for users to map the gender-related SDG targets of women’s empowerment and infrastructure against areas including energy, transport, water, solid waste, ICT, health, education, government and housing. Specific subsectors can also be targeted such as air transport, surface water management, or emergency response.

Modules yet to be launched will be risk and reliance, climate mitigation, environmental protection, with others to be launched over the coming year.

SustainABLE will help infrastructure decision-makers from international development bodies, development banks and governments to embed sustainability in infrastructure projects in developing and emerging nations and first world economies to make better use of their budget.