UN publishes principles for sustainable infrastructure


The UN has published detailed guidance on the integration of sustainability throughout the entire infrastructure lifecycle.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has just published its International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure, which set out ten guiding principles that policymakers can follow to help integrate sustainability into infrastructure planning and delivery.

The principles are focused on integrated approaches and systems-level interventions that governments can make to create an enabling environment for sustainable infrastructure.

The UNEP highlights that infrastructure is central to sustainable development, underpins economic growth and delivers the services that are essential to improve livelihoods and wellbeing. At the same time, the programme asserts that unsustainable, poorly planned and delivered infrastructure can have disastrous effects on the environment and societies.

The International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure are intended to provide globally applicable guidance on the integration of sustainability throughout the entire infrastructure lifecycle, with the focus on the ‘upstream’ of the project level. It aims to assist high-level policy- and decision-makers in governments in creating the enabling environment for sustainable infrastructure that is needed to achieve the UN sustainable development goals and the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In general, the guidance emphasises the importance of infrastructure approaches that respond to needs and demand for services, address sustainability as early in the planning process as possible and integrate not only all aspects of sustainability but also relevant governance frameworks and different infrastructure systems and sectors across time and space.

The ten guiding principles offer a guide to how and why infrastructure planning and development should focus on the following key areas: –

  1. Strategic planning.
  2. Responsive, resilient and flexible service provision.
  3. Comprehensive lifecycle assessment of sustainability.
  4. Avoiding environmental impacts.
  5. Resource efficiency and circularity.
  6. Equity, inclusiveness and empowerment
  7. Enhancing economic benefits
  8. Fiscal sustainability and innovative financing
  9. Transparent, inclusive and participatory decision-making
  10. Evidence-based decision-making.

The report makes the point that the ten principles can be used to support integrated, systems-level approaches that can increase governments’ abilities to meet a given level of service needs with less infrastructure that is more resource efficient, pollutes less, is more resilient, more cost effective and has fewer risks than ‘business-as-usual’ approaches.

The principles are complemented by a second publication, Integrated Approaches in Action: A Companion to the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure.

Together, the publications aim to inform the forthcoming wave of global infrastructure investment. Collectively, they specify and demonstrate how environmental, social and economic sustainability must be integrated right across infrastructure policy making at the systems level.

The individual principles and case studies were developed via ongoing global consultation and inputs from experts and UN member states. These included FIDIC’s head of economic and strategic policy, Graham Pontin, who sat on the expert working group that helped to create the guidelines, develop the original outline, and provided comments on early drafts. The document also forms part of the implementation of the UN Environment Assembly Resolution 4/5 on sustainable infrastructure. 

Click here to download the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure.