Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Sustainable infrastructure
Wikimedia Commons/Störfix
ISSUE

Sustainable Infrastructure

The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in investment in railways, roads, energy projects, and ports in the developing world, aiming to address a significant “infrastructure gap.” Much attention has focused on China’s Belt and Road Initiative as the largest and most visible investor in the developing world, but many international finance organizations and other countries—especially Japan and Korea—have also been making substantial infrastructure investments. Planned infrastructure expansion is expected to span multiple continents and ocean basins and will potentially interact with a wide variety of sensitive terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems. While infrastructure is fundamental to economic development, historically large-scale infrastructure projects have had unintended negative impacts on the environment and local communities.

Infrastructure is also a central issue in the United States. Much of the country’s infrastructure—drinking water, wastewater treatment, reservoirs, oil and gas pipelines, roads, and more—is aging; much is past its expected lifetime. This infrastructure must be updated to adapt to changing climate conditions and population shifts. The Nicholas Institute is studying how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is operating its reservoirs, which much of the country relies on for hydropower, water supply, and flood protection. The Internet of Water project is also building a network of open, shared, and integrated water data and information to help federal, state, and local agencies make sustainable water resource management decisions.

Also see: Why and How to Build Sustainable Infrastructure: A proposed training course

Projects

Belt and Road Initiative

In 2013, China announced its vision for the creation of the 21st century Silk Road, and momentum around this massive international infrastructure development program has been building ever since.

Reservoirs

The majority of United States reservoirs were constructed when climate was thought to be unchanging and past precipitation and temperatures were reliable for predicting future conditions.

Internet of Water

The water data infrastructure in the United States is antiquated and increasingly inadequate for the 21st century. While water data have been collected by federal, state, and local agencies for decades, much of it is not open—meaning discoverable, accessible, and usable.