The UNEA resolution on Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure adopted at its resumed fifth session endorses the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure as a strategic tool to integrate environmental considerations in infrastructure plans.
A second edition of the principles, released in May 2022, reflects UN system-wide perspectives, and contains a foreword by UN Secretary General António Guterres.
By Joseph Price and Ana Gabriela Fernández Vergara, UNEP
An estimated USD 6.9 trillion needs to be invested in infrastructure every year to achieve the SDGs by 2030, given that infrastructure cuts across the 17 Goals and influences 92% of the 169 individual SDG targets. The UN system, Member States, and other stakeholders have a strengthened mandate to deliver: a new UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolution on Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure and a second edition of the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure set out key imperatives for action.
Through the new resolution, adopted by UN Member States at the resumed fifth session of UNEA (UNEA-5.2) in March 2022, the Assembly reiterated once more the pivotal importance of sustainable and resilient infrastructure in global and national sustainability agendas. By encouraging Member States and other stakeholders to consider implementing the ten good practice principles into national policies, the Assembly endorsed these principles as a strategic tool to integrate environmental considerations in infrastructure plans. The resolution specifies investing in sustainable and resilient infrastructure, natural infrastructure, and nature-based solutions; conducting strategic and environmental assessments for infrastructure decision making; cooperating internationally to strengthen frameworks, including for financing; and providing opportunities for engaging relevant stakeholders such as Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and the private sector.
For the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership (SIP), this resolution is a renewed mandate to advance efforts on supporting the implementation of the principles, further developing knowledge and continuing to collect and share best practices, providing technical assistance and capacity support, as well as facilitating private sector engagement.
The new resolution builds upon the 2019 UNEA-4 resolution on Sustainable Infrastructure that prompted the development of the first edition of the principles, published following extensive regional consultations and the convening of an expert working group. The principles are therefore not prescriptive or “one-size-fits-all,” but provide an overarching guide ready to be tailored to local contexts.
On this front, a second edition of the principles was released in May 2022, following endorsement by the UN Environment Management Group’s 51 members. The second edition reflects UN system-wide perspectives, and contains a foreword by UN Secretary General António Guterres.
“Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050 require urgently scaling-up investment in and construction of sustainable infrastructure,” stresses Guterres.
“Sustainable infrastructure requires an enabling environment that promotes the right investments and synergies among all sectors of society. This second edition of the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure provides a comprehensive framework to achieve this goal. Sustainability must be integrated as early as possible into infrastructure plans. The publication’s ten guiding principles show how to do so, advocating for inclusive, nature-based, low-carbon and resource-efficient solutions that uphold human rights and deliver economic opportunities for all,” he states.
In the current global context of overlapping crises, the interconnectedness of human and natural systems is striking. Basic infrastructure services like provision of water and electricity are threatened by conflicts and climate shocks. Construction of built infrastructure consumes significant amounts of natural resources, often sourced via global supply chains currently facing disruptions. And, without careful planning and consultation, infrastructure later delivered on the ground risks fragmenting ecosystems and adversely impacting local communities. Accordingly, the ten principles seek to address all dimensions of sustainability, promoting:
- Strategic planning;
- Responsive, resilient, and flexible service provision;
- Comprehensive life cycle assessment of sustainability;
- Avoiding environmental impacts and investing in nature;
- Resource efficiency and circularity;
- Equity, inclusiveness, and empowerment;
- Enhancing economic benefits;
- Fiscal sustainability and innovative financing;
- Transparent, inclusive, and participatory decision making; and
- Evidence-based decision making.
In line with its mandate, UNEP has disseminated the principles through events like webinars and dialogues, and is now looking to support individual countries in implementing the resolution and the ten principles, alongside its partners. Collaborations have already begun in Chile, Rwanda, and other countries.
Any views expressed are solely the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UNEP.