June 20, 2023

Infrastructure for Good: Canada and the UK Top Global Ranking

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
  • The Infrastructure for Good barometer assesses the capacity of infrastructure ecosystems in 30 countries to deliver on social, economic and environmental outcomes 
  • Canada and the UK rank highest, with Nigeria and Indonesia receiving the lowest scores 
  • Overall, countries that approach infrastructure as an ecosystem, rather than in silos, deliver more sustainable and inclusive outcomes 

Infrastructure investments in Canada and the United Kingdom are most likely to deliver positive societal, economic, or environmental benefits, according to new research by Economist Impact. 

The Infrastructure for Good barometer, developed by Economist Impact and supported by Deloitte and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability benchmarks the capacity of 30 countries to sustainably deliver efficient and quality infrastructure that addresses critical economic, social and environmental needs. 

The barometer assesses key aspects of infrastructure ecosystems across five major pillars, encompassing the general foundations of infrastructure for good (governance and planning, sustainable financing and investment) and key outcomes and dividends (social and community impact, economic benefits and empowerment, environmental sustainability and resilience). Canada and the UK were the only countries analyzed to perform highly in all five areas. 

Pratima Singh, Principal at Economist Impact, explains: “The barometer highlights that early-stage participatory planning, needs assessments and high-level monitoring often get overlooked – addressing these gaps will be key for countries to generate more consistent social, economic, and environmental outcomes.”

Overall, the barometer revealed that most countries prioritize governance and planning, however the execution and financing of infrastructure projects are often insufficient to deliver positive social outcomes. Less than a quarter of the countries analyzed conduct strategic social assessments and 24 of 30 countries do not require projects to assess social impact.

“We’re proud to support this research and Economist Impact’s Infrastructure for Good initiative - we believe that investment in infrastructure can have a transformative power on economies and societies,” said Luke Houghton, Global Infrastructure Lead for Advisory, Deloitte. “In order to see the benefits, however, it is critical that governments and countries improve how they prioritize and utilize infrastructure, while supporting dialogue between key stakeholders and measuring its impact." 

“Addressing the world’s enormous infrastructure finance gaps in the face of climate change and social inequity demands more than technical solutions,” said Jerome Lynch, Vinik Dean of Engineering at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering. “It is essential that engineers, governments, and financiers take a holistic approach to infrastructure development to maximize prosperity and resilience throughout the world. Duke is excited to partner with Economist Impact and Deloitte on Infrastructure for Good to activate this potential at the nexus of infrastructure technology, governance, finance, and social and environmental impacts.”

Social and community impact indicators accounted for the weakest scores across the 30 countries, with 60% of countries only engaging in consultation with local communities on an ad-hoc basis. The barometer indicates that countries that performed poorly could deliver better outcomes by prioritizing community engagement, providing protection for workers and communities, and enhancing general access to public services. 

A ‘double dividend’ was observed in developing countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, and Thailand, which benefitted environmentally from efforts to transition to clean energy, and economically by realizing strong economic returns and driving job creation. Despite this, insufficient institutional support to ensure pipelines and drive investment for projects prioritizing social or environmental returns was also observed in most countries, suggesting these benefits are not inevitable and require targeted efforts. 

Spotlight on the United Kingdom  

The UK scored highly across all five pillars, employing several strategies to deliver inclusive, sustainable infrastructure: 

Co-ordination: Cross-cutting bodies including the UK’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the National Infrastructure Commission align development and evaluation efforts to improve infrastructure implementation at a systemic level. 

Pursuing social outcomes: The UK delivers regular needs assessments and has strong community engagement standards, though inclusive strategies such as “Levelling Up”. 

Economic benefits: The UK ensures infrastructure benefits local industry (e.g., a target for 33% of public procurement to benefit SMEs) and implements strategies to promote upskilling among infrastructure workers, as outlined in its National Infrastructure Plan.

Environmental performance: The UK is one of few countries with sufficiently ambitious emissions and net zero targets, supported by policy. It has systemic measures in place to protect the environment and plan for infrastructure resilience.