The coronavirus crisis is a critical priority for Latin American and the Caribbean decision makers as they respond to the health emergency and push social distancing to lower the curve.
The pandemic represents the region’s most severe economic challenge since the Great Depression and will cause between 1.8 and 5.5 percent of GDP growth reductions this year. Countries are focusing on saving lives and launching temporary economic and fiscal interventions to support the economy.
Amidst these responses, there are growing calls for economic recovery packages to not bail out sectors such as fossil fuels, mass tourism and airlines, which have contributed to the climate and ecological emergencies. Instead, green economic recovery packages should be prioritized that deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and help to manage future risks of pandemics.
For example, 13 European ministers have called on the EU to make a Green Deal and climate neutrality goal for 2050 the basis for the economic recovery stating that they must not lose sight of the climate and ecological crisis. And in South Korea, the new government is set to advance plans to boost investment in renewable energy, introduce a carbon tax, and support workers to transition to green jobs with the aim of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
Sustainable infrastructure is central to a green and inclusive economic recovery
In Latin American and Caribbean, a focus on sustainable infrastructure could guide the economic recovery, which can boost growth and support efforts to achieve net-zero emission and climate-resilient economies. Before the pandemic, estimates suggested that this kind of transition could result in economic gains worth USD 26 trillion globally over the next 12 years compared to business-as-usual.
Infrastructure services including electricity, water, sanitation, transportation, logistics, and communications are the backbone for economic development and either directly or indirectly influence the attainment of all of the SDGs, including 72% of the targets.
The way we build future infrastructure will determine whether we can limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius or not. With 70 percent of the forecast increase in emissions from developing countries set to come from infrastructure that has yet to be constructed built, decisions made today will determine whether the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals remain viable.
LAC citizens are also becoming increasingly vocal in their demands for quality public services and infrastructure. To meet demand for sustainable infrastructure while also confronting the climate crisis, LAC needs to increase its investment in infrastructure by at least 2% of its gross domestic product, in order to go from USD 150 billion to USD 250 billion per year.
Although sustainable infrastructure projects can entail upfront costs that are roughly 5 percent larger than those of the past, they can generate lower operating costs over the life of the investment, while also reducing risks.
The IDB Group’s Sustainable Infrastructure Framework attempts to address these challenges by promoting decision-making on infrastructure that is economically, financially, socially, environmentally and institutionally sustainable. It applies across the entire project cycle including the policy context, planning, procurement, design, construction, operations, and decommissioning.
How civil society can play a key role in promoting sustainable infrastructure
Civil society plays a vital role in driving momentum in sustainable infrastructure. It is a critical actor in improving and helping countries, banks, and investors advance this approach to ensure “we do projects right” and, more importantly, that “we do the right projects.”
The IDB is working to better engage with civil society to reflect on what works and what does not and to help everyone deliver sustainable development. Here are four reasons why civil society should help to shape the sustainable infrastructure agenda post-COVID-19:
1. Sustainable infrastructure plays a vital role in health. The coronavirus crisis has brought home to many the importance of renewable energy and green transport and how this reduces deadly air pollution. Effective water and sanitation systems and green areas improve air and water quality and have been critical to ensuring the relative well-being of people sheltered at home. Infrastructure is the basis of the transport services that provide access to health and communications infrastructure is essential for working remotely. Civil society has a key role in advocating for infrastructure that puts the health of citizens first.
2. Infrastructure affects biodiversity. Latin America and the Caribbean has 40% of the world’s biodiversity but we are losing the war against the loss of it. The main drivers are infrastructure, agricultural expansion, and invasive species. 70% of the remaining forest is within 1km of a forest edge and that 90% of new road construction will occur in developing nations. COVID-19 arises because we have been irresponsible in managing the interactions between people and nature. Civil society can help to raise the awareness and demand that infrastructure supports all life.
3. Infrastructure services are critical to sustainable development. In Latin America, over 80% of its population lives in cities, and will reach 90% in 25 years. We need increased infrastructure investments to deliver green public transport to ensure fair and inclusive growth as it brings greater access to service benefits. Civil Society can help guarantee that this new infrastructure serves people and the planet.
4. The infrastructure we build now will determine whether we can tackle the ecological and climate emergencies or not. Infrastructure projects have very long lifespan. Civil society has had a strained relationship with infrastructure projects because infrastructure can be both a solution and a driver of negative change. Involving civil society early in the project cycle– in defining the institutional contexts for infrastructure – is crucial to ensure infrastructure is sustainable.
Looking beyond the immediate medical emergency, we must make the right infrastructure investment decisions to protect people and the planet. Working alongside civil society, we can vanquish the belief that sustainability is a brake on development and instead promote sustainable infrastructure as the next growth story for our region post-COVID-19.
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Photo credit: Bilobicles (Santigo de Chile)