12 March 2019: At the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) in Nairobi, Kenya, Member States agreed on a resolution on sustainable infrastructure that had been presented by Mongolia. The resolution urges the international community to adopt concerted efforts in order to prevent detrimental lock-in effects for the environment, while optimizing the cross-sectoral benefits that infrastructure development can yield across environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability, spatial scales, sectors, project phases and governance structures.

The resolution draws on the centrality of infrastructure to all the SDGs. SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) explicitly addresses resilient infrastructure in connection with inclusive and sustainable industrialization and innovation. Infrastructure also underpins all other economic, social and environmental SGDs. Purposefully planned, resilient and sustainable infrastructure is of vital importance for inclusive growth (SDG 8), poverty eradication (SDG 1), climate resilience (SDG 13), and the realization of human rights and societal well-being, including access to clean and affordable energy (SDG 7), water and sanitation (SDG 6), quality education (SDG 4) and gender equality (SDG 5).

Taking into account the cross-cutting interlinkages of different infrastructure systems and the importance of cross-sectoral infrastructure integration for the promotion of sustainable consumption and production patterns, the resolution highlights the urgency to consider potential social and environmental impacts linked to infrastructure development. These include impacts on ecosystems’ quality and integrity, human health, employment as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation, among others.

The UNEA resolution calls on Member States and all other relevant stakeholders to:

  • embrace system-level approaches to the development of all infrastructure assets;
  • apply appropriate sustainability criteria in the infrastructure development process;
  • create an enabling national environment for the promotion of sustainable infrastructure projects;
  • build technical and scientific expertise in developing countries;
  • promote nature-based solutions; and
  • strengthen existing public-private partnerships (PPPs) and mutual exchange.

The resolution requests the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to support private and public stakeholders in their implementation of these goals through preparing a compilation of existing initiatives, tools, guidelines, standards and best practices to identify existing knowledge gaps and to define an international normative framework, appropriate sustainability criteria, mechanisms and approaches. It also requests UNEP to foster multi-stakeholder dialogue and capacity-building efforts to ensure that stakeholders are well-equipped to apply these frameworks and tools.

Efforts to bridge global infrastructure and capacity gaps are of relevance to the large infrastructure projects that are projected to arise over the coming decades. According to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, an annual average of USD 6.9 trillion in infrastructure investment up until 2030 is considered indispensable for the achievement of global development and climate agendas. The bulk of this investment will involve developing countries, including fragile low-income economies and emerging economies driven by population growth, increased income levels and rapid urbanization. However, developed countries will also require action to bridge infrastructure and capacity gaps, given the need to invest in retrofitting ageing infrastructure – particularly in light of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

UNEA-4 has convened under the theme, ‘Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production,’ from 11-15 March 2019, in Nairobi, Kenya. [UNEA-4 Webpage] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]