UN: Integrated infrastructure is key to a resilient environment, economy and society

In March of 2019, seven United Nations entities released an interagency statement that calls for integrated approaches to infrastructure redevelopment.

The statement emphasizes the linkages among infrastructure renewal and all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It also underscores that quality, resilient and sustainable infrastructure is essential to eradicate poverty, enhance climate resilience, promote well-being, realize human rights and achieve inclusive growth and sustainable development.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), International Labour Organization (ILO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) released the statement titled, Sustainable Infrastructure: How Integrated Approaches Can Help Deliver the 2030 Agenda.

The statement outlines the relationships among infrastructure and the SDGs, highlighting ways in which infrastructure offers opportunities for employment creation, income generation and economic growth, as well as access to basic services such as healthcare, education and water and sanitation. At the same time, the statement recognizes that poorly conceived infrastructure systems contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, can have direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on ecosystem degradation and species loss and may undermine sustainable development.

For example, construction of new roads and ports can cause habitat fragmentation and enable access to previously inaccessible areas, which can result in poaching or land degradation. Further, the statement notes that climate change drives extreme weather events that can pose threats to infrastructure, underscoring the necessity of adaptation to these risks and the promotion of climate-resilient, sustainable infrastructure.

The UN agencies recommend a life-cycle approach, and suggest that designers and planners apply a mitigation hierarchy to prioritize efforts to avoid negative environmental and social effects, particularly in key biodiversity areas and protected areas and sacred natural sites. In the statement, the organizations recommend applying environmental and social safeguards as far upstream in an infrastructure development cycle as possible, explaining that screening for environmental and social risks is most effective at early stages.

They further recommend building in stakeholder consultations at all stages. Whenever possible, the UN agencies recommend nature-based solutions, observing that natural infrastructure can provide environmental, economic and social benefits and emphasizing the role of natural systems, including forests and mangroves, in ecological infrastructural functions.

The UN organizations express their interest in promoting integrated approaches to infrastructure development as a means of increasing the safety, sustainability and resilience of infrastructure and accelerating the SDGs and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The organizations call on policymakers to incorporate environmental, social and economic sustainability into policies and ensure their implementation and to support an enabling environment by removing fossils fuel subsidies and introducing other fiscal incentives. The organizations call on infrastructure users to adopt sustainable lifestyles that prioritize resource efficiency and reduce the need for new infrastructure. They urge all stakeholders to support an integrated approach to sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

Photo of Houston, Texas via Adobe Stock.

See the Interagency Statement on Sustainable Infrastructure.

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