A drawing of different elements of a city's infrastructure, including buildings, bridges, energy sources and communications


Infrastructure decisions underpin environmental sustainability, says a new Oxford-UN report

Published: 24 October 2018


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The report, 'Infrastructure: Underpinning Sustainable Development', 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% of SDG targets, while non-networked infrastructure influences 81% of targets – reinforcing the pivotal role that infrastructure will play towards attaining the SDGs.

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.

'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, Nick O’Regan, will present the report during a keynote speech on Wednesday 24 October 2018. He will explore how rapid population growth, urbanisation, climate change and challenges associated with development funding impact on achieving the SDGs. He said: '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.

'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.'

Professor Jim Hall, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risk at the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, said: '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.'

The University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute was established in 1991 'to organize and promote interdisciplinary research on the nature, causes and impact of environmental change and to contribute to the development of management strategies for coping with future environmental change'.

Founded in 1973, the United Nations Office for Project Services is an operational arm of the United Nations, dedicated to implementing projects for the United Nations System, international financial institutions, governments and other partners around the world.