A Sting Exclusive: “Infrastructure can lay the groundwork for the Sustainable Development Goals” by Mr Fulai Sheng, UN Environment Senior Economist

Fulai Sheng

Mr Fulai Sheng, Senior Economist at UN Environment (UN Environment, 2018)

Exclusively written for The Sting by Mr Fulai Sheng, UN Environment senior economist. The opinions belong to the distinguished writer.

Infrastructure’s importance is often overlooked. Similar to the circulatory and nervous systems in the human body, infrastructure underpins our economies and allow them to function. Energy, transport, telecommunications and water infrastructure provide the framework that supports our everyday lives. Without energy infrastructure to deliver heat and electricity, houses would stay cold in winter and machines and appliances would stop working. Transportation infrastructure meanwhile moves goods and people around the world, enabling trade and employment.

However, infrastructure can have major impacts on the environment and, as a result, on human health and wellbeing. Eurostat reports that more than 75% of CO2 emissions in the European Union stem from transportation and fuel combustion. Telecommunications have never played a more essential role in society, with everything and everyone relying on online information and data. But emissions from the Information and Communication Technology sector already accounted for 4% of total carbon emissions in the EU in 2015 and are expected to keep growing.

Water makes up more than 50% of our human bodies – it is critical to our survival at the most basic level, but also for agriculture and many industrial production processes. Water infrastructure, such as dams, can threaten biodiversity – by hindering fish migration, for example –  and increase water-borne diseases by creating insect breeding grounds. Large-scale transportation projects such as highways and railway lines can connect remote, less-developed communities with economic centers and contribute to inclusiveness and equal opportunities across different communities. At the same time, they can endanger species by blocking migration routes and reducing their natural habitat.

Designing and building sustainable infrastructure systems will be one of the biggest global challenges faced during the transition to inclusive green economies. The links between infrastructure and sustainable development are well illustrated in the global Sustainable Development Goals. While Goal 9 calls specifically for resilient infrastructure and sustainable industrialization, most of the 17 goals are closely linked to infrastructure. Affordable and clean energy (Goal 7), for example, and sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), will rely on the development of new infrastructure. According to the Global Infrastructure Outlook, in order for the Goals to be achieved, trillions of dollars will need to be invested in infrastructure every year. Growing populations, demographic changes and economic development will increase this number year by year in future.

Two-thirds of this money will need to be invested in the global South. This is an opportunity for low-income countries to start with sustainable infrastructure that leapfrogs the polluting systems prevailing in many developed countries. Pursuing a new pathway will not only bring economic growth, but also reduce poverty and prevent significant risks stemming from climate change.

In the EU, the High-Level Expert Group for Sustainable Finance recommended in its interim report in 2017 that a dedicated infrastructure organization be set up to close the financing gap by matching sustainable projects with investors. For cleaner energy, public-private partnerships between governments and energy service companies can play a leading role. A prime example in Europe is the city of Geneva, where the canton and the city have partnered with the local energy provider to develop a system that uses cold water from deep within Lake Geneva to cool buildings in summer. Beginning in 2022, a hydro-thermal network will bring renewable energy and heating to the city center and the airport. The sustainable use of local water resources makes urban energy infrastructure more resilient by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels, as well as more efficient: it is expected to slash Geneva’s total electricity consumption by 80%.

On a global scale, the biggest infrastructure initiative is the China-led One Belt, One Road Initiative, which sets out to connect Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe and covers more than 65 countries. Railways, ports, roads, or pipelines, for example, can bring prosperity to local communities, but will also strongly affect the environment. To ensure that the trillions of dollars in investment are used in the most environmentally sustainable way, countries need to plan their infrastructure development strategically, generating the best possible outcomes for the economy, society and the environment in an integrated manner. In addition, infrastructure projects must be evaluated against sustainability standards and follow safeguards and guidelines. There is no lack of sustainable infrastructure frameworks – the difficulty is in ensuring that they are actually being implemented.

To gather best practices and lessons learned from previous examples in order to inform the design and implementation of infrastructure development in future, UN Environment is hosting the Geneva Forum for Sustainable Infrastructure with IUCN, WWF and the University of Geneva on March 22 and 23. Key stakeholders are coming together to share their experiences and ideas of making infrastructure projects contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The forum is expected to become an annual event taking place across of the world, bringing knowledge and capacity closer to where infrastructure development is taking place.

About the author

Fulai is a UN Environment senior economist. Over the last 13 years, he has led the work on integrated policymaking for sustainable development, green economy, and more recently, sustainable infrastructure. Prior to joining UN Environment in 2005, he had served the Chinese Ministry of Finance, the World Bank, World Wide Fund for Nature, and Conservation International. His earlier work included promoting greening national accounting, conducting training in environmental economics, researching the relationship between macroeconomic policy, environment and poverty, and advocating comparative assessment of development options. He received his M.A. in Economics from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in 1985.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Greece and Ukraine main items on EU28 menu; the course is set

Guterres condemns killing of Bangladeshi peacekeeper in South Sudan, during armed attack on UN convoy

A day in the life of a refugee: We should be someone who helps

Is the EU competent enough to fight human smuggling in 2015?

‘Collective amnesia’ over causes of global financial crash – human rights expert

In Rome you can swap plastic bottles for metro tickets

Africa is creating its own Great Wall – and it’s green

Innovation can transform the way we solve the world’s water challenges

Why we must reimagine capacity building to strengthen education after COVID-19

Murder of Brazilian indigenous leader a ‘worrying symptom’ of land invasion

Bioethics: how to recover trust in the doctor-patient relationship

Cyber attacks are shutting down countries, cities and companies. Here’s how to stop them

European Commission and World Bank Group renew agreement to strengthen development cooperation

People talk less now than during the Cold War, says Merkel at Davos

Thursday’s Daily Brief: Press Freedom Day, Tuna Day, cultural dialogue, #GlobalGoals awards, updates on Syria, Somalia, Mali

The European giant tourism sector in constant growth

Media freedom: EP warns of attempts to silence critics and undermine pluralism

European Parliament calls on Russia to end occupation of Georgian territories

Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021 over coronavirus concerns

Draghi: printing a full extra trillion non negotiable to help all borrow cheaply

Here are 3 ways venture capital can fund a better future

UN says ‘many humanitarian achievements’, one year after ouster of ISIL from Mosul

Ending harmful fisheries subsidies would improve the health of our ocean. This is why

‘Never give up’: UN chief urges all who serve, marking UN Day

Council Presidency: Floundering with the EU 2014 budget

Extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council: Commission presents Action Plan for immediate measures to support Greece

Could this electric ferry’s success herald an era of greener shipping?

FROM THE FIELD: Keeping Morocco’s indigenous culture and conservation in balance

What empty homes and hipster coffee shops tell us about globalization

RescEU: MEPs vote to upgrade EU civil protection capacity

To achieve the Great Reset, we will need more than just the actions of the powerful

EU budget 2022: Speeding up Europe’s recovery and progressing towards a green, digital and resilient future

This Norwegian cruise line plans to power its ships with rotting fish

COVID-19 will accelerate the revolution in energy systems

Be your all to give your all

German egotistic inward turn to badly hurt Europe after Merkel’s exit

Nearly two-thirds of children lack access to welfare safety net, risking ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

How sustainable infrastructure can help us fight climate change

The secret to ending war? It’s too easy: more women in peace negotiations

Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Conserve Italia for participation in canned vegetables cartel

Is the EU’s enlargement over-stretched?

Yemen parties underscore ‘strong desire’ for peace, UN Envoy reports

EU: The Member States to pay for national banking problems

Youth Parliament to finalise millennials´ priorities for future of the EU

Opening – EP remembers Nelson Mandela and mourns attacks on Roma in Ukraine

Juncker and Tusk killed Greece on 07 July 2015 to meet the Commission’s summer vacation plan? #Grexit #Greferendum #Graccident

Mexico must increase foreign bribery enforcement: full implementation of anti-corruption reforms could help

The US calls off globalization, targets Germany. Paris offer to Berlin comes at a cost

Apple Vs. EU: Will the US tech giant ever pay for taking advantage of Ireland’s taxation?

Poorer countries set to be ‘increasingly dependent’ on food imports, says UN food agency report

Service and Sacrifice: Ugandan ‘Blue Helmets’ support UN efforts to bring peace to Somalia

Palliative care: so, how do we want to die?

French Prime Minister passes Stability Program and takes his ‘café’ in Brussels this June

Real EU unemployment rate at 10.2%+4.1%+4.7%: Eurostat Update

China is adding a London-sized electric bus fleet every five weeks

Memoirs from a unique trip to China: “my new old dragon” (Part I)

Eurozone: Even good statistics mean deeper recession

It’s time to move: 5 ways we can upgrade our SDG navigation systems

vSudan: UN chief calls for ‘positive momentum’ as civilian rule talks stall between military and opposition

UN chief welcomes prisoner exchange between the Russia and Ukraine

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s