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NATURE-BASED INFRASTRUCTURE

Global Challenges

Countries are grappling with the unprecedented challenge of meeting development needs while adapting to climate change impacts, addressing global temperature increases, and combating biodiversity loss. As of 2020, 2 billion people lacked access to safe drinking water, 733 million people were without electricity, and 25% of primary schools lacked basic services such as electricity, drinking water, and sanitation (United Nations [UN], 2022). By 2021, global mean temperatures reached 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, approaching the 1.5°C threshold critical for avoiding the most severe climate change impacts (World Meteorological Organization [WMO], 2022). The effects of climate change are already evident, with global economic losses from natural disasters estimated at $93 billion in the first half of 2021, including $42 billion in insured losses (Aon, 2021).

Simultaneously, the world is facing a biodiversity crisis, with only 3% of ecosystems remaining intact globally (Plumptre et al., 2021). Human activities have significantly altered 66% of the marine environment and 75% of the terrestrial environment (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services [IPBES], 2019). Additionally, 1 million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades (IPBES, 2019).

The Role of Infrastructure in Global Challenges

Infrastructure investment decisions will be pivotal in overcoming these challenges. Infrastructure systems are critical to development, supporting the functioning of societies and economies by providing essential services such as electricity, water, sanitation, healthcare, transportation, and communications. Properly designed and operated infrastructure can contribute to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), impacting 92% of the 169 SDG targets (Thacker et al., 2019). These systems also play a role in both adaptation and mitigation efforts under the Paris Agreement (Thacker et al., 2021).

Infrastructure systems include built infrastructure, natural infrastructure, and the enabling environment (Thacker et al., 2021). Historically, investment has predominantly focused on built infrastructure, often at the expense of the natural environment. This focus has led to numerous negative impacts, such as habitat fragmentation, biodiversity loss, pollution, exacerbation of soil erosion, nutrient leaching, and the use of natural resources for construction (Seiler, 2003; Ibisch et al., 2016).

The overemphasis on built infrastructure is also driving climate change due to embedded carbon and greenhouse gas emissions across its lifecycle, compounded by the loss and degradation of natural carbon sinks. Many built infrastructure systems are increasingly vulnerable to climate impacts such as flooding, drought, and hurricanes. This vulnerability threatens progress towards the SDGs, potentially diverting funds from new infrastructure development to repairing and replacing damaged systems (Fuldauer et al., 2022).

Continued overemphasis on built infrastructure risks undermining progress on these global challenges, leading to negative outcomes for human health, livelihoods, and biodiversity. A balanced approach that integrates built and natural infrastructure is essential for sustainable development and resilience against climate impacts.

Sources:

https://content.unops.org/publications/Nature-based-Infrastructure_EN.pdf

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