UN Completes First Global Infrastructure Review


A team of environmental scientists from the United Nations have recently carried out the first standardized global review of potential risks and benefits from planned transportation infrastructure projects.

Launched at the UN’s Biodiversity Conference (COP15), the “Mapping Environmental Risks and Socio-Economic Benefits of Planned Transport Infrastructure: A Global Picture” report reveals that holistic planning of major road and railway infrastructure can better protect nature, mitigate emissions and enhance economic benefit.

The report was produced by a team of experts from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC).

Study Overview

According to UNEP’s release, until now, there has not been a comparable global review of the ecological risks and economic benefits of planned transport infrastructure projects. Specifically, the study looked at major road and railway infrastructure.

Using novel methods and metrics, the researchers forecasted what impact that large-scale projects currently underway or planned in 137 countries will have on wildlife populations, carbon storage and nitrogen retention, in comparison to the anticipated boosts to jobs and countries’ gross domestic profit. 

“Well-planned transport infrastructure is crucial for human development. But our expansion continues to pose a huge threat to nature. It is essential that national governments and industry can weigh the ecological consequences of transport development against social and economic benefits,” said study co-lead Andy Arnell, from UNEP-WCMC.

“Our study is by no means exhaustive—it provides a snapshot of projects, species under threat and emissions and economic impacts, and does not override the need for detailed local and regional risk-benefit assessments of projects. However, we hope it will encourage further scrutiny for high-risk projects, and that our methods provide a springboard for further analysis of the risks from major road and rail developments.” 

The study estimates that projects will:

  • Cross over approximately 60,000 km of the world’s protected areas or Key Biodiversity Areas;
  • Impact the habitats of nearly 2,500 bird, amphibian and mammal species of conservation concern, with an especially high risk of accelerating the decline of species in the global tropics;
  • Release 883 million tons of carbon from removed trees and vegetation. The loss of vegetation related to the works will also jeopardize the retention of 1.17 million tons of nitrogen—without the plants, that additional nitrogen could be toxic to downstream water supplies; and
  • Create 2.4 million new jobs around the world, with varying increases in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), ranging from a 0.1% increase in North America, Europe and Australasia, and a 1.3% increase in lower income countries outside those regions.

By combining and comparing the measurements, the researchers were reportedly able to do a basic categorization of which countries might stand to lose the least in terms of environmental impacts from the planned works, the most to gain economically, and vice versa. This was based on source data available.

“The challenge of sustainable human development that maximizes benefits for both people and nature is a vital topic of negotiation and discussion here and now at COP15. Our study presents a new way for countries to evaluate trade-offs and better plan major transport projects,” said Rowan Palmer, UNEP’s Sustainable Infrastructure Investment Lead.

“Over time, we hope our work will be developed to examine the knock-on impact of infrastructure construction on whole ecosystems, as well as more nuanced analysis of socio-economic benefits and risks. In the short-term, we hope it will inspire governments and planners to engage with fine-scaled metrics and robust local assessments.”

One goal of the study was to produce a foundational, globally consistent assessment of the risks and benefits to people and the nature of currently planned, large-scale road and rail transport infrastructure projects. Ultimately, the team hopes this can improve regional, national and global decision making.

Additionally, the researchers developed the Global Infrastructure Impact Viewer, an online viewer tool that displays the values for project risks and benefits on a global map. The map can be sorted by types of infrastructure, such as road or rail, type of risk and risk-benefit comparison.

The study authors are now reportedly planning to grow the new database to grow their risk-benefit research. This work can then be continually updated and made publicly available for global engagement.

The full report can be found here.

UN Sustainable Construction Report

In November last year, the UN Environment Program’s Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction published its 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, finding that the construction sector is responsible for 37% of carbon emissions.

“Since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, CO2 emissions from the buildings and construction sector have peaked in recent years, and subsequently fallen to 2007 levels in 2020. This current decline is mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas transformative, long-term progress in sector decarbonizing remains limited,” the report stated.

While the COP26 Summit has defined steps the world can take to reduce greenhouse emissions and reaching net-zero goals, there have been various forms of technology emerging throughout the years that also look to reduce our carbon footprint, specifically in construction industry.

PaintSquare Daily News looked at how the industry was exploring how to meet the needs of the green by investing in sustainable technology, such as renewable energy systems, green building materials, cool coatings and machinery that isn’t reliant on fossil fuels.

US Green Infrastructure Programs

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration announced a $6.4 billion Carbon Reduction Program, created under the bipartisan infrastructure law. The formula funding will help states develop carbon reduction strategies and address the climate crisis, as well as expand transportation options to save money on gas.

The CRP will reportedly apply to a wide range of projects designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from on-road highway sources, including installing infrastructure to support the electrification of freight vehicles or personal cars, to construction bus corridors or facilitating micro-mobility and biking.

According to the FHWA’s press release, under the CRP, states must also develop carbon reduction strategies in consultation with Metropolitan Planning Organizations to identify projects and strategies tailored to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in their states. However, localities can begin using these funds even before plans are developed and reviewed.

Funding was announced by state in the Fiscal Year 2022 Federal-aid Highway Program apportionments, determined by a formula set by Congress. Acdcording to the announcement, $52.5 million will go to states for this fiscal year, with $6.4 billion in total being distributed over five years.

Earlier this month, the FHWA announced the latest round of transportation innovations through its Every Day Counts Program. Because of the White House’s Action Plan for Accelerating Infrastructure, the DOT has committed to expanding the EDC model to more modes of transportation.

This year’s innovations are promoted by the FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration, improving project delivery across highway, rail and transit agencies at the state and local level.

Established over a decade ago, the EDC is a state-based program that helps identify and rapidly deploy proven, yet underutilized, innovations that facilitate greater efficiency in project delivery at the state, local and Tribal levels. The goal is to save time, money and other resources to ensure that infrastructure is built better, faster, smarter and more equitably.

Every two years since 2011, the FHWA has worked to identify a new set of innovations to champion that merit accelerated deployment. The first six rounds of EDC have reportedly yielded several innovative project delivery technologies, including prefabricated bridge systems, design-build contracting, project bundling, e-construction (paperless contracting), safety initiatives and more.

EDC Round 8 Innovations include:

  • Nighttime Visibility for Safety;
  • Next-Generation Traffic Incident Management;
  • Integrating Greenhouse Gas Assessment and Reduction Targets in Transportation Planning;
  • Enhancing Performance with Internally Cured Concrete (EPIC);
  • Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for Sustainable Project Delivery; and
  • Strategic Workforce Development.

Accelerated Innovation Demonstration and State Transportation Innovation Council Incentive programs administered by FHWA complement EDC by providing additional funding and resources to help the surface transportation community accelerate the adoption and standardization of innovative technologies in their programs.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Carbon footprint; Construction; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Emissions; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Controls; Green Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Rail; Research and development; Roads/Highways; Sustainability; Transportation; Upcoming projects; Z-Continents

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