9 May 2019
UNEP Report Calls for Bringing SDGs “Upstream” in Infrastructure Planning
Photo by Lynn Wagner
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Meeting infrastructure demand in a sustainable way will be key to the success of the 2030 Agenda, as infrastructure has a direct influence on over 80% of the SDG targets.

The report recommends three key actions to promote integrated approaches to infrastructure at a system scale.

May 2019: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report that calls for more integrated approaches to sustainable infrastructure to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The publication aims to motivate development planners to invest in governments’ technical and institutional capacity to apply integrated approaches.

The report titled, ‘Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Infrastructure,’ underscores the linkages between infrastructure and sustainable development, observing that infrastructure affects the environment-focused SDGs and underpins the socioeconomic SDGs. According to the report, global demand for development and economic growth has led to an increase in infrastructure demands in both developing and developed countries. The report states that meeting this demand in a sustainable way will be key to the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, underscoring that infrastructure choices made today “will determine to a large extent how equitable, resilient and polluting society will be for future generations.”

The report observes that infrastructure has a direct influence on over 80% of the SDG targets. Infrastructure investment provides opportunities for employment creation, income generation, creation of assets and services, inclusive growth and trade opportunities, and can contribute to poverty alleviation. The report emphasizes, however, that infrastructure alone will not contribute to achieving the SDGs, citing an example of a hospital constructed on a high-value ecosystem run on electricity generated from fossil fuels. The hospital might support progress on SDG 3 (good health and well-being) but would undermine progress on SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15 (life on land), among others. The report suggests considering the sustainability of infrastructure by the extent to which a project contributes to one or more SDGs without undermining other SDGs.

Infrastructure choices made today will determine how equitable, resilient and polluting society will be for future generations.

The report identifies three characteristics of integrated approaches to infrastructure, emphasizing infrastructure as “a set of inter-connected systems.” First, such approaches consider the interconnections among infrastructure systems, levels of governance, sectors, spatial scales and economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability across an entire life-cycle of infrastructure systems. Second, integrated approaches consider these interconnections at the “upstream” phase of project development, in contrast with approaches like cost-benefit analysis (CBA), environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA). Finally, these approaches incorporate public participation and stakeholder consultation from the beginning to capture a wide range of potential opportunities and challenges in the process and bring them into all phases on infrastructure development.

The report recommends three key actions to promote integrated approaches to infrastructure at a system scale:

  • Increasing the visibility of the central role of infrastructure in the 2030 Agenda, and making integrated approaches to infrastructure a distinct item on the global policy agenda, also mobilizing the research community to demonstrate the benefits of upstream, macro-level, integrated infrastructure planning and providing data and information to support decision making;
  • Identifying and addressing gaps in tools for integrated approaches, consolidating existing tools and providing guidance on the use of tools to support integrated approaches to infrastructure in different contexts; and
  • Providing development planners and government officials with specialized knowledge and technical capacity to adapt and apply available tools and approaches to sustainable infrastructure in support of the 2030 Agenda.

To support these actions, UNEP proposes to “facilitate collaboration across multiple organizations” to build momentum for making infrastructure investment sustainable, promoting sharing of experiences and knowledge, increasing institutional capacity and ensuring that the significant infrastructure development expected in the future decades is supported by strong planning and implementing institutions. UNEP argues that concerted international collaboration is critical to ensure sustainable, durable infrastructure that contributes to sustainable development and shared prosperity for people and the planet. [Publication: Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Infrastructure]

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