Infrastructure lays foundation for SDG success

Jim Hall

A new Oxford University-UNOPS report stresses infrastructure as key to unlocking Sustainable Development Goals.

A new report published by the University of Oxford-led Infrastructure Transition Research Consortium (ITRC) and UNOPS, has found that efficient infrastructure policy and disciplined investment decisions are vital for attaining the SDGs.

The report, Infrastructure: Underpinning Sustainable Development (pdf, 31.6 MB), is the result of extensive research into the influence that both ‘networked infrastructure’ (water, waste, energy, digital communications and transport infrastructure) and ‘non-networked infrastructure’ (buildings and facilities) have on all 17 SDGs. It highlights the need to understand infrastructure as an integrated system of systems – the interdependencies across sectors requires us to break down the ‘silo mentality’ in infrastructure development.

Focusing on real-life projects implemented by UNOPS around the world, the report finds that infrastructure projects can have multiple effects across several SDGs and their targets. It found that networked infrastructure influences 72 percent of SDG targets, while non-networked infrastructure influences 81 percent of targets – reinforcing the pivotal role that infrastructure will play towards attaining the SDGs.

See also the UNOPs news item.

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.

He continued: “We are proud to present this report together with Oxford/ITRC, and to reaffirm our commitment to helping people build better lives and countries achieve peace and sustainable development.”

The launch of the report coincides with the 2018 Global Engineering Conference, hosted by the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, starting today.

UNOPS Director of Infrastructure and Project Management, Mr Nick O’Regan, will present the report during a keynote speech on Wednesday 24 October 2018. He will explore how rapid population growth, urbanization, climate change and challenges associated with development funding impact on achieving the SDGs.

“Our children and the children of those we serve have great expectations of their future, it is on all of us to create an environment that is resilient, sustainable and equitable – and the built environment can be an enabler or an obstacle to this,” said Mr O’Regan.

“Together with our partners the ITRC, we have focused on the SDGs as a common framework to work towards an understanding of how we can contribute to sustainable development. This will help governments, and their development partners make better-informed decisions within this uncertainty,” he said.

Professor of Climate and Environmental Risk, University of Oxford, Professor Jim W Hall FREng added: “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.

“The collaboration between ITRC and UNOPS has been a very productive one, with UNOPS bringing us new challenges from very diverse contexts around the world and opportunities for our work to have an impact on the ground, which is what motivates my team. This report provides a next important step in that journey.”

See also the UNOPs news item.