The critical role of infrastructure for the Sustainable Development Goals

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May 2019
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

This essay explores the role of infrastructure in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), finding that infrastructure plays a key role in all three dimensions of sustainable development: the economy, the environment and society. It is also critical to increasing resilience, which cuts across these three pillars. 

The essay argues that infrastructure should not be viewed as individual assets, such as a power plant, a hospital, or a water network, but as part of a system with a portfolio of assets that deliver essential services. Chapters focus on "the dividends"—the benefits of infrastructure, including economic gains, protecting the natural environment, underpinning social progress, and building resilience; challenges, including growing demand, funding and resource gaps, and questions of governance; and solutions and best practices, including harnessing innovative finance, filling the project pipeline, blending green and gray, making infrastructure smart, managing infrastructure, and improving transparency. 

The research reveals is that sustainable infrastructure can only be delivered when all three pillars—economic, environmental and social—are considered together, while also ensuring that infrastructure services are resilient and can be equitably accessed. Moreover, all stakeholders have to collaborate in planning, design, delivery and management.