Photo: Tony Salas | Flickr Creative Commons
In my home state of California in the United States, major drought-fueled wildfires tore across the state in the latter half of 2017 setting records for both the state’s deadliest fire, as well as the largest fire. Wildfire season is back in 2018 with the most destructive year ever—currently more than 13,000 firefighters are battling 9 large blazes that have damaged or destroyed over 2,000 homes or buildings and scorched over 730,000 acres of land.
The Mendocino Complex fire in Northern California recently broke the state’s previous record for largest fire, spreading furiously due to heat, wind, and years of drought.
California’s Governor Jerry Brown said this is becoming the new normal…where fires threaten people’s lives, property, neighborhoods and, of course, billions and billions of dollars. Many point to climate change as the driver for weather conditions fueling most of the wildfires. July was the hottest on record for the state, and extreme weather is causing larger and more destructive fires across the whole western United States.
Photo: RoyBuri | Pixabay
In developed countries, we tend to take infrastructure services for granted. It’s easy to forget, when living in London, Washington, or Singapore, how much lies behind the simple act of switching on the lights. But as a young person growing up in India in the 1960s, I knew what it was like to live with rampant electricity shortages and terrible roads. It was easy to complain about it, and we did. It seemed, then, that the solution was simple: government should simply cough up the money, get to work, and build the infrastructure.
But there was a lot more we didn’t think about.
Photo: only_kim / Shutterstock.com
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: Felix_Broennimann | Pixabay Creative Commons
Infrastructure is a key driver for growth, employment, and better quality of life in emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs). But this comes at a cost. Approximately 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from infrastructure construction and operations such as power plants, buildings, and transport. The Overseas Development Institute estimates that over 720 million people could be pushed back into extreme poverty by 2050 as a result of climate impacts, while the World Health Organization projects that the number of deaths attributable to the harmful effects of emissions from key infrastructure industries will rise from the current 150,000 per year to 250,000 by 2030.
Does this mean we need to build less infrastructure? No. But part of the solution lies in low-carbon infrastructure.
Photo: Michiel van Nimwegen | Flickr Creative Commons
Just ahead of this year’s anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, I visited the Tsunami Honganji Vihara site in Sri Lanka where upwards of 2,000 people died when their train was destroyed by the force of the waves. Shortly after my visit, Sri Lanka was faced with an unusually large tropical cyclone that pummeled the capital of Colombo, and caused extensive flooding, power failures and infrastructure damage. And, a few thousand miles away, Bali’s highest volcano, Mount Agung, was threatening to erupt, causing considerable anxiety in Colombo that it could trigger another tsunami event of the same magnitude of the 2004 disaster.
Upon my return to the United States I learned of the raging wildfires in California causing massive damages.
This year’s seemingly never-ending adverse weather events, exacerbated by climate change, along with adverse natural events such as earthquakes, are negatively impacting critical infrastructure globally. Some might describe 2017 as a global “annus horribilis” for adverse “force majeure” events.
Image: chombosan / Shutterstock
According to NASA, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. So—with climate change high on the global agenda—almost every nation signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, the primary goal of which is to limit the rise in global temperatures to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. However, with the acute effects of global warming already being felt, further resilience against climate change is needed.
To meet both mitigation and adaptation objectives, “green infrastructure” can help.
Last Saturday, tens of thousands of people gathered on the Washington D.C. mall for the March for Science alongside hundreds of sister marches around the world to coincide with Earth Day. Climate change and environmental protection were high on the agenda as the planet continues to warm and countries confront an increasing number of extreme weather events.
Meanwhile, down the road at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the 2017 Global Infrastructure Forum was in full swing, discussing how to deliver inclusive and sustainable infrastructure to ensure we achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One of my favorite songs when I was growing up was John Lennon’s “Imagine.” A few months ago, UNICEF created a project around it to highlight the plight of millions of refugee children. As 2016 drew to a close, I couldn’t help but imagine a world with high-quality, affordable, sustainable, well-maintained infrastructure services for everyone.
I’m not sure a video of infrastructure projects set to “Imagine” would fire people up as much as the UNICEF video does. But there is value in reflecting on what we have accomplished in 2016, and what we might hope for and imagine in 2017, to bring this vision closer to reality for millions of people.
- Public Private Partnerships
- Public private partnership
- Labor and Social Protection
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Climate Change
- Financial Sector
- Global Economy
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Law and Regulation
- Private Sector Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Urban Development
- The World Region
Photo Credit: The Maersk Group
Almost everything you buy—no matter how organic or natural—has an impact on the environment. Why? Because everything made and sold has to be transported, and transportation almost always means burning fossil fuels.
Photo Credit: Kathleen Bence via Flickr Creative Commons
I’ve been looking for a good definition of social enterprise. The information overlords at Google and Wikipedia suggested this:
“A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders.”
That’s a pretty broad and somewhat unsatisfying definition. I mean: “What organization in the 21st century wouldn’t put human and environmental development, social impact and profit high on their agenda?” – (He asks naïvely.)
Infrastructure professionals think a lot about social enterprise, but in a slightly different way. There is of course the unrelated term “social infrastructure,” which broadly covers public services such as healthcare, education, leisure and other government services. But really what we think about when it comes to social enterprise is “infrastructure morality.”