In light of the unprecedented global challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, a core shift is needed in how infrastructure is being developed and delivered today – moving from built solutions that address singular problems to those that bring multiple transformative outcomes. 

To achieve transformative outcomes through infrastructure, new approaches to infrastructure planning and decisionmaking will be critical. In addition to analysing infrastructure as a stimulus data and identifying example stimulus packages that target transformative outcomes, the GI Hub undertook a systematic review of available literature from G20 governments, international organisations, multilateral development banks, and peak industry bodies worldwide to identify approaches that could transform infrastructure across the lifecycle. 

Opportunities and guidance for achieving transformative outcomes through infrastructure

The GI Hub reviewed and analysed 23 documents in this literature review. An overarching theme that emerged is the value of coherent growth agendas that are developed through long-term infrastructure and spatial plans that consider a broad set of long-term outcomes beyond immediate job creation. As the OECD states, "Economic recovery packages should be designed to 'build back better'. This means doing more than getting economies and livelihoods quickly back on their feet."

Six other key opportunities were identified through this research, and are outlined below.

  1. National or sector-based strategies for low-carbon transition

    The GI Hub estimates that infrastructure’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions account for about 50% of global GHG emissions. Infrastructure can therefore play a big role in achieving global climate targets. However, systemic change is needed across the infrastructure lifecycle to accelerate the pace of change. Furthermore, the sector would benefit from clear and verifiable investment criteria to define objectives and better understand whether commitments are on track to meet Paris Agreement targets.

    Examples of relevant guidance documents

    "Getting investment and climate policy right is a necessary condition of success in meeting the climate challenge, but it is not enough." Climate, infrastructure and finance: An agenda for transformation, OECD, The World Bank, UN Environment, 2018

    "The sector strategy also lacks both a sector-wide emission target and a climate finance target." Aligning the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with the Paris Agreement and the SDGs: Challenges and Opportunities, AIIB, 2019

  2. Common definitions for sustainable infrastructure projects

    A common definition for sustainable infrastructure projects can help identify and prioritise the most effective projects for low-carbon transition, especially where this definition is linked to overarching strategies for infrastructure. This could provide greater certainty for private investors and leverage investor interest in low-carbon transition to drive sustainable infrastructure investments.

    Examples of relevant guidance documents

    "A consistent, globally applicable labelling system for sustainable infrastructure assets ... could allow the market to easily signal the sustainability of the asset." FAST-Infra Sustainable Infrastructure Label, Climate Policy Initiative, HSBC, the International Finance Corporation, OECD and the Global Infrastructure Facility, 2021 (Note: still in consultation)

    "Given the urgent need to scale up sustainable infrastructure, a shared definition and understanding as well as a common framework can ensure that these efforts are well aligned and can enhance its delivery." Attributes and Framework for Sustainable Infrastructure, Inter-American Development Bank, 2019

  3. Capturing costs and benefits of the low-carbon transition

    The lifecycle costs and benefits associated with low-carbon transition are not well understood or applied to project appraisal. Better data, capabilities, and transparency in quantifying the costs and benefits can go a long way to attracting investment in infrastructure for low-carbon transition, particularly in the transport sector which accounts for around 17% of global GHG emissions, based on GI Hub analysis. This could help better identify the most effective projects, and better account for long-term benefits of low-carbon transition.

    Examples of relevant guidance documents

    "Appraisal of alternative policy options is an inseparable part of detailed policy development and design." Quantifying and valuing energy and GHG emissions, UK Government, 2021

    "Policymakers, project proponents, and project teams can use the tool to create an initial evidence base for allocating resources, articulating potential societal impacts, and helping inform planning and design to align with intended impacts." Shorthand Cost-Benefit Analysis Tool for Bus Transportation Projects, GI Hub, 2021

  4. Involving citizens in infrastructure planning

    Involving citizens in planning can be key to identifying, incorporating, and achieving a broad and holistic range of transformative outcomes in infrastructure planning.

    Examples of relevant guidance documents

    "The best consultation processes do much more than try and secure public consent for a strategy or a specific project. They provide vital data and insight that allow changes to be made at an early stage." Enabling better infrastructure: 12 guiding principles for prioritising and planning infrastructure, Institution of Civil Engineers, 2020

    "Stakeholder engagement is about more than providing information to stakeholders. Done well, it is a dynamic and ongoing process that can transform stakeholders’ experiences and situations. Targeted at low-income and other groups at risk of being excluded … it can help break cycles of disadvantage and achieve long-term gains for projects and communities." Inclusive Infrastructure Tool, GI Hub, 2018

  5. Focus on citizen outcomes (and not built solutions) during the planning stage

    Focusing on citizen outcomes (and not built solutions) in planning and procurement can help with achieving maximum benefits. Defining projects in terms of social outcomes also allows for new and innovative ways to deliver those outcomes.

    Examples of relevant guidance documents

    "It is tempting to define future infrastructure requirements in terms of specific assets: 'this city needs light rail' or 'we must expand our motorway' are some examples. Defining projects in terms of social outcomes, such as delivering affordable public mobility between specific points, leaves an opening for technological innovation to deliver those outcomes." Transforming infrastructure: Frameworks for Bringing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to Infrastructure, World Economic Forum, 2019

  6. Improve analysis of long-term social impacts

    It may be difficult to gather enough information to understand project benefits and to use this information to factor into project funding decisions. This can mean that the most socially beneficial projects are not identified or prioritised. Where data is not available, simple frameworks such as multi-criteria analysis could be applied to better account for social benefits. Where data is available, further effort could be taken to value long-term social benefits over short-term costs in decisionmaking. This can include expressly including inclusivity targets for business cases.

    Examples of relevant guidance documents

    "[An] unstructured path to project approval leaves room for … particularist infrastructure policy that is unlikely to effectively serve development needs." Prioritizing Infrastructure Investment: A Framework for Government Decision Making, World Bank Group, 2016

    "One of the challenges is that social parameters and benefits are, frequently, not easily measurable (in terms of valuations in monetary units), and lend themselves more readily to qualitative evaluation. Nevertheless, there is scope to better integrate social parameters in the project development process." Inclusive Infrastructure Tool, GI Hub, 2018