During the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments around the world have placed infrastructure development at the centre of their agendas aimed at relaunching their economies. The large recovery packages put in place are an unprecedented opportunity to address our future’s next great challenge: climate change.
It is difficult to overstate the relevance of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for the fight against global warming. This large-scale initiative is aimed at improving international economic integration mainly through investment in energy and other infrastructure projects. These sectors often are the backbone of economic activity and – if based on fossil energy – the main source of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
The COVID-19 lockdowns had an immediate and drastic impact on transport systems and mobility, in particular on the mobility patterns of people. Strict regulations imposed by governments around the world have affected the delivery of and demand for public transport services in and across many cities and countries as highlighted in Figure 1.
Past global catastrophes have shown us how public health crises force us to change how we design, build, and operate cities and infrastructure systems. The cholera epidemic, for example, in the 19th century led to the introduction of modern sanitation systems  . During the Industrial Revolution, housing regulations on air circulation and lighting were introduced as measures to avoid respiratory diseases in overcrowded houses in Europe.
Today’s global context indicates that disparities and inequalities in human development are widespread across the world and they will probably increase in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The availability of natural resources is limited and global warming, linked to human activity, is putting the survival of forests, cities and people at risk. Geopolitical implications prompt policymakers to look at existing and new connectivity infrastructure more as a proxy of their sovereignty than as an opportunity for inclusive economic growth.
In recent years, we have witnessed an acceleration in the rate at which the Earth’s climate is changing. Rising average temperatures have led to growth in the frequency and severity of acute hazards, such as heat waves and floods, as well as growth in the intensity of chronic hazards, such as drought and rising sea levels.
Approximately 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are caused by the construction and operation of infrastructure. Infrastructure projects can have a lifespan of multiple decades, even centuries, meaning that any project built today will bring with it significant lock-ins for the climate change trajectory. Given the significant infrastructure needs, for climate considerations alone, it is crucial that infrastructure solutions are designed in the most sustainable way.
In a world on the brink of a global recession caused by COVID-19, the Infrastructure efforts of today and tomorrow are more crucial than ever. They are an indispensable countercyclical tool to mitigate the negative effects of the economic paralysis. But they also constitute a pivotal component of a country’s development and competitiveness in the long term.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments all over the world are enacting major stimulus packages to confront the health crisis, one of the biggest challenges since the end of the Second World War. But when the pandemic crisis has been tamed, bigger challenges will be waiting, since the major imperative would be to immediately re-launch the global economy.
The recession that’s on the way poses a formidable challenge: the scale of fiscal and monetary support required to soften the blow to personal incomes and ensure the survival of companies bereft of revenues has no precedent in recent times. Public debt levels, and probably also private debt levels, are going to soar.