Sustainable infrastructure for the climate transition

Addressing climate change requires sustainable infrastructure

Infrastructure plays a critical role in addressing the challenges posed by climate change. As the planet faces rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events, it's evident that our current infrastructure practices need to evolve. To mitigate and adapt to climate change, sustainable infrastructure is not just an option; it's a necessity. Taking proactive action to transform how we plan, prepare, and finance infrastructure is imperative to tackle these pressing global challenges effectively.

On these pages, you will be able to:

  • [Coming soon] Review case studies of policies, funding, financing, delivery models, and InfraTech solutions to address climate change and sustainable development through infrastructure

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  • Access GI Hub expertise to support your work on sustainable infrastructure.

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What is sustainable infrastructure?

Sustainable infrastructure builds smarter, greener, and more adaptive systems that can weather the storms—literally and figuratively – of a changing climate. Sustainable infrastructure is infrastructure that delivers positive economic and social impacts in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are a comprehensive and globally recognised blueprint for sustainable development that “meet[s] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[1] When done right, infrastructure can be a powerful tool for fair and sustainable economic growth. Developing infrastructure in line with the SDGs is one way that governments can assure people and industry that the infrastructure created now will serve us well into the future.

A key challenge to developing and delivering sustainable infrastructure is that there are no common definitions or performance standards for sustainable infrastructure. This can lead to complex project preparation and reporting requirements, making sustainable infrastructure projects harder to finance, especially in emerging markets. The GI Hub recently developed a report on infrastructure taxonomies that sheds light on the range of existing definitions for sustainable infrastructure.

To address climate change and achieve the SDGs, the GI Hub has identified 15 transition pathways.

Infrastructure contributes to sustainable development and the SDGs

Infrastructure is often described as the ‘backbone’ of the economy and of society, because it shapes so many aspects of our lives. Studies show that infrastructure investment has a significant ‘multiplier effect’ on the economy, which is higher than the multipliers for public spending as a whole. Infrastructure can also impact up to 92% of all SDG targets, according to the United Nations:

Infrastructure is crucial for development. From transport systems to power-generation facilities and water and sanitation networks, it provides the services that enable society to function and economies to thrive. This puts infrastructure at the very heart of efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Encompassing everything from health and education for all to access to energy, clean water and sanitation, most of the SDGs imply improvements in infrastructure.”

–  United Nations Office for Project Services

All of this reinforces the massive potential of infrastructure to be a major contributor to sustainable development.

See strategies for social impact through infrastructure

The GI Hub is working with governments and other stakeholders to define transition pathways for infrastructure to meet net zero and sustainable development goals. Read more

Infrastructure consumes 60% of the world's materials. Learn more

How infrastructure affects climate change

Infrastructure contributes significantly to climate change, first in its operational emissions, and second in its embodied emissions through material usage.

Almost 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to infrastructure, according to the UN Environment Programme. It is widely understood that infrastructure must decarbonise to enable us to reach net zero, and that large-scale transformation across the infrastructure lifecycle is needed to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Infrastructure is also a major user of materials worldwide. GI Hub research found that infrastructure consumes 60% of the world’s materials. The extraction, processing, and use of these materials during construction and maintenance of infrastructure has a direct impact on the embodied carbon of infrastructure, which comprises around 18% of infrastructure’s CO2 emissions.

As the climate crisis continues escalating, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that temperatures will likely exceed the 1.5 C Paris Agreement target. Reducing infrastructure’s operational emissions and embodied emissions from material usage is therefore more urgent than ever.

See strategies for mitigating CO2 emissions through infrastructure

How climate change affects infrastructure

On the flip side, climate change can have significant impacts on infrastructure and the communities they serve. These impacts can be in the form of physical damage, reduced safety, or reduced access to critical services as a result of extreme weather patterns, increased temperatures, and rising sea levels (to name a few). One way to reduce these impacts is to invest in adaptation – to ensure that infrastructure assets and communities are protected from climate change.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has estimated that up to USD340 billion per year is needed for adaptation by 2030 – which is up to six times higher than existing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and up to 13 times higher than current levels of public finance. This illustrates the large investment gap for adaptation, and that it will be impossible for all adaptation efforts to be financed by the public sector alone. Scaling up private sector participation in adaptation investment will be critical in closing this gap, however the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) states that only USD1 billion came from private sources in 2018. There is still much to be done in this space.

According to the G20/GI Hub Framework on How to Best Leverage Private Sector Participation to Scale Up Sustainable Infrastructure Investment, an impactful action to increase investment – especially private sector investment – is to have clear infrastructure plans that articulate adaptation goals and how these goals align with infrastructure investments.

See strategies for increasing resilience to economic shocks and impacts from climate change

The GI Hub recently spoke with four experts on the resilience of critical infrastructure to climate and other risks. Read the Q&A



United Nations Brundtland Commission, available at