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In the context of strained public finances and limited borrowing capacity for developing countries, there is growing debate on the roles of public and private actors to deliver the trillions of dollars of infrastructure necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). On one hand, high-profile public-private partnership (PPP) project failures have cast doubt about the viability of the model. On the other hand, while public authorities are ultimately responsible for the delivery of public services, deficient infrastructure services in some countries have raised concerns about the ability of the public sector to deliver on its own.
This is not a black-and-white issue. Public and private finance are complementary, with different objectives and characteristics suitable in different contexts and sectors. The recently published 2018 report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development, to which almost 60 agencies and international institutions have contributed, explores this debate while analyzing financing challenges of SDGs 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), and 15 (life on land/ecosystems).
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In my line of work, we have a Holy Grail that many brilliant people have spoken, written, and toiled to achieve: attracting international institutional investors to infrastructure projects in emerging countries.
Yet, according to the recent World Bank Group report, Contribution of Institutional Investors to Private Investment in Infrastructure, 2011–H1 2017, the current level of institutional investor participation in infrastructure investment in emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) is only 0.7 percent of total private participation.
This Bank Group report estimates that emerging countries need to invest $836 billion per year, or 6.1 percent of current service level of existing assets. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that more than $100 trillion is held by institutional investors—with around 60 percent of assets held by pension and insurance funds from advanced economies—making the amount mobilized for EMDE infrastructure look even more paltry.
But the siren song still rings clear—
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By promoting better standards, methods and benchmarking, development finance institutions can move the mountain that is preventing institutional capital from flowing into infrastructure.
The World Bank Group's initiative to Maximize Finance for Development (MFD) aims to find solutions to crowd in all possible sources of finance, innovation, and expertise in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the case of infrastructure investment, a significant contribution to long-term sources of private finance is expected from institutional investors such as pension plans, life insurers, and sovereign wealth funds.
These investors have become increasingly interested in infrastructure investment in recent years, in search of new sources of returns, diversification, duration and inflation hedging. However, they cannot be expected to make a substantial and durable contribution to the long-term financing of infrastructure without three important changes:
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In many parts of the world, the sharing economy is ever-present for individuals, allowing them to use personal assets—for example, houses and cars—to their fullest potential. If you plan to be away for a period of time, why not rent your space for a few extra bucks?
Such a phenomenon exists in infrastructure economics, where the level of asset utilization matters for end-cost. As more consumers use the same infrastructure more frequently, the unit cost for all consumers goes down. Recent projects combining expertise from the World Bank’s digital development and energy teams demonstrate this.
It is broadly understood that public-private partnerships (PPP) are a procurement tool that encompass design, financing, construction and long-term operation of a public infrastructure by the private sector. They can be cost-effective thanks to adequate risk transfer and performance criteria, and help bridge Africa’s large infrastructure gap in many sectors.
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There are many drivers of climate change, but few would disagree that energy infrastructure built according to “business-as-usual” standards is a major one. Meeting the lofty goals set at the 2015 Paris Climate Accords requires powering our homes, businesses, and government agencies with a cleaner mix of energy that includes more renewable sources. It also requires promoting standards that encourage energy efficiency—for example, for appliances or building codes—as a low-cost and high-impact way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) is playing a positive role by preparing bankable, climate-smart projects that help countries build low-carbon energy infrastructure and encourage greater energy-efficiency measures. The GIF both drives and leverages private sector investments in climate-smart projects by promoting good governance and standardization in project preparation and has a sizeable portfolio of climate-smart projects in the pipeline.
Photo: HAC/Croatian Motorways
The state of Croatia’s road sector poses a unique challenge compared with more typical World Bank projects where road assets either need to be developed or require significant rehabilitation. If you've ever had the chance to experience Croatian roads you'll quickly realize the country has a well-developed motorway and state road network, in relatively good condition. This begs the question: how can the World Bank help improve a sector with already high-quality assets in a middle-income country like Croatia?
Over the past two decades, rated infrastructure worldwide has grown threefold. Some periods of flatter growth aside, the rise of infrastructure lending for both project finance and corporates has helped steer the sector’s development.
All the while, the infrastructure sector has developed a more robust risk profile compared to companies primarily involved in the production of goods, otherwise known as non-financial corporates (NFCs). And,
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Public-private partnerships (PPPs) in Brazil have been around since 2004 when federal legislation established the legal framework to make them possible. Since then, approximately 100 PPP contracts have been signed in Brazil, totaling almost 160 billion Brazilian reais ($50 billion) in private investment in numerous sectors, including hospitals, schools, public lighting, sanitation, solid waste management, sport arenas, public buildings, urban transport, and roads. Some notable successes include the Belo Horizonte schools PPP, which supports non-pedagogical services in 51 schools, and the 298-bed Bahia Subúrbio Hospital, which opened in 2010.
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Australia’s involvement in the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF)—as a founding member, and co-chair of the advisory council over the past year—underscores our commitment to lift investment in global infrastructure, which is a critical component to ensuring economic growth and poverty alleviation.
Strong economic infrastructure underpins human development, enables movement of people and goods, provides access to and expands markets and services, facilitates innovation, and enhances competitiveness.