Reclaiming sustainable infrastructure as a public good

Infrastructure is key to improving living conditions worldwide, but the current push to attract (often foreign) private finance to projects in the global south risks undermining development objectives. How can we reclaim sustainable infrastructure as a public good?

This report is available in English, SpanishFrench and Portuguese.

This report analyses infrastructure from a systemic perspective, examining it through the lens of four interconnected pillars:

  • economic
  • governance
  • social
  • ecological

It also provides a working definition of what truly sustainable would mean if considering all these interlinked dimensions. Based on joint reflections by Eurodad and the Society for International Development (SID), the report builds on our work with partners from the global north and south, who provided in-depth and evidence-based analysis on concrete experiences that illustrate practices going on at the country and regional level. They are:

  • AFRODAD (Africa region): The Nacala Road Development Corridor in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique: Accumulating debts at the expense of citizens and the environment
  • Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (Colombia): Colombia's Cundinamarca Eastern Perimeter Corridor project: In the public interest?
  • Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN, Argentina): Argentina's Highways and Safe Routes Network: Road to ruin?
  • Observatori del Deute en la Globalització (ODG, Spain): Democratic Republic of Congo: Inga hydroelectric power project at risk of becoming another "white elephant"
  • Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco and Articulação Semiárido Brasileiro (URFPE and ASA, Brazil): The one Million Cisterns Programme: New approaches and challenges for the Brazilian semi-arid region
  • VB Platforma, Lithuanian NGDO Platform (Lithuania): Lithuania's Prosumer Solar Community Model: The first online platform for solar energy
  • Eurodad and Recourse: Myanmar's Myingyan public-private partnership gas power plant: Pitfalls of private sector involvement

Read these case studies in full

Policy recommendations

Civil society has a key role to play in reclaiming sustainable infrastructure as a public good by calling on decision makers and IFIs to shift course. We provide policy recommendations to advance this collective agenda, with actions that encompass the four interconnected pillars of our analysis.

  1. Scale up publicly financed infrastructure, particularly in social sectors. Public financing is often less costly, more financially sustainable, and more directly accountable to citizens than private financing. Moreover, public interventions are critical for social equity reasons or where social returns are much larger than private returns.
  2. Rethink the promotion of private finance for infrastructure. An infrastructure finance agenda focused on developing ‘infrastructure as an asset class’ and promoting PPPs risks undermining progress on meeting the SDGs. Private finance might be appropriate in some circumstances, but only when democratically owned development plans are followed, high quality and equitable public services are prioritised, and international standards of transparency and accountability are met. National governments should preserve their capacity to regulate in the public interest.
  3. Improve the quality and sustainability of infrastructure, including its systemic considerations. Sustainable infrastructure and its financing mechanisms must be rooted in human rights and socioeconomic transformation, high standards of democratic accountability, and take an intergenerational approach to climate adaptation.