Infrastructure

Overview

It's time to reimagine the future of infrastructure—a future in which infrastructure meets human needs and aspirations while allowing nature to thrive.

We live in a world where 770 million people lack access to electricity; 2 billion people do not have safe drinking water—including between 9 million to 45 million Americans a year; 3.6 billion people live without adequate sanitation services; and, in the United States, 43% of public roadways are in poor or mediocre condition. Improving access to reliable and sustainable infrastructure is essential—both in the US and around the world.

Poorly designed infrastructure can cause significant harm to biodiversity, our climate, and the natural environment we rely upon for critical services. It can destroy habitats; block migratory corridors for wildlife; cause wildlife mortality from vehicle strikes and electrocution; degrade vital natural resources; deplete nonrenewable resources such as sand and minerals used for construction; and increase pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Poor planning also creates risks to the built infrastructure itself. Projects are more likely to fail or increase significantly in cost when they don't take social concerns and ecological and climate factors into account.

WWF is working to ensure a future in which natural infrastructure—the intact ecosystems we all rely on for important benefits like clean water and air—is conserved and the infrastructure we build meets societal needs, all while maintaining or restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services and avoiding or minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

Why It Matters

  • People Need Built Infrastructure

    Infrastructure underpins our societies, delivering the water we drink, the roads we travel, and the electricity that powers our livelihoods. However, when poorly planned, infrastructure has led to declines in the health and well-being of people, wildlife populations, and ecosystems. If the coming explosion of infrastructure is not built sustainably and strategically, it will worsen the environmental problems we already face and harm the communities it is intended to serve. Investing in the right kind of infrastructure that provides social and economic value for everyone produces positive and lasting outcomes for people and nature.

  • Natural Infrastructure is Vital for Human Well-Being

    Nature also provides us with infrastructure services. Forests filter our air; healthy, well-connected rivers support floodplains that buffer against flood events; and mangroves protect us during storms. People, plants, and animals depend on the services that nature provides. We must ensure that built infrastructure incorporates protections for these vital ecosystems.

  • Infrastructure Can Increase Our Resilience to Climate Change Impacts

    If planned and designed well, built infrastructure can support natural infrastructure—and vice versa—by increasing our resilience to the impacts and future risks of climate change, including damage from more extreme storms and associated flooding and other hazards.

  • Sustainable Infrastructure Can Conserve and Restore Biodiversity

    Linear infrastructure, such as roads, often runs through sensitive habitats and can hinder wildlife reproduction and access to food and water. Roads can also help poachers access key biodiversity areas, leading to declines in wildlife populations. If developed sustainably, however, by either avoiding critical habitats or building with habitat connectivity in mind, infrastructure improvements can complement other efforts to conserve and restore biodiversity, achieving the dual objectives of improving connectivity and restoring nature.

  • Early Sustainability Planning Is Better for People and the Planet

    Sustainable infrastructure development requires consideration of the important benefits surrounding ecosystems provide as early as possible in the planning process. For example, about 2 billion people rely directly on rivers for drinking water, and 500 million people live on deltas sustained by sediment from rivers. However, unsustainable dam development threatens many rivers' health. We can provide ways to meet energy needs in ways that are better for people and the planet by considering a range of energy sources; their locations; and the financial, social, and environmental costs.

What WWF Is Doing

Several giraffes walk across a dirt road in the savanna on a sunny day

WWF works with local communities, experts, companies, financial institutions, and governments to change the way infrastructure is planned, built, and operated so that new infrastructure has a limited impact on nature; natural infrastructure is maintained and well managed; and all infrastructure serves to conserve or restore nature, increase resilience, and mitigate climate change.

Rapidly Mobilizing to Solve Immediate Infrastructure Threats

With our partners, we can help steer future infrastructure development in the direction of sustainability, but it can take time to see results from these long-term processes. What actions can we take that will result in more immediate benefits?

Where damaging infrastructure development is imminent or already underway, we can take steps to prevent or stop it and advocate for alternatives. Every threat will demand a unique approach, and we need to craft proactive solutions. WWF is building capacity with national and local institutions, civil society, and academia through tools, guidance, and training programs on sustainable infrastructure. Our rapid-response success relies on listening to local communities and facilitating seamless collaboration and communication with local partners.

Building Partnerships Globally for the Shift to Sustainable Infrastructure

Infrastructure development is both a global need and a global problem and, as such, demands global action. The most powerful way we can bring about transnational, systemic change is to influence global policies and practices and create a robust market for sustainable infrastructure.

WWF is generating a movement for change across infrastructure-related disciplines. We advocate for the recognition of the true social and environmental costs of traditional infrastructure and the clear value to people and the planet of sustainable infrastructure.

WWF brings leading science and interdisciplinary expertise and coordinates between a variety of sector stakeholders—including infrastructure planners, developers, and investors. Together, we create and share best practices and guidance related to innovative financing mechanisms, promote and apply infrastructure standards, and advance the use of technology and data to support the design and management of sustainable infrastructure.

For instance, WWF-US has a strategic partnership with the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC)—the largest and most influential member association for the engineering industry—to promote sustainability in the sector. WWF engages with the infrastructure finance community—investors, asset owners, and managers—to support portfolio risk analysis and investment in sustainable infrastructure that helps people and nature. We are also a member of the Infrastructure and Nature Coalition, a group of more than 25 organizations collaborating to provide resources and guidance on how the sector can deliver new and necessary infrastructure while restoring biodiversity, building resilience, and creating a just and carbon-neutral future.

Collaborating with Local Stakeholders on Planning and Delivery of Infrastructure Services

WWF focuses on effecting change at the national and local levels to transform how countries deliver infrastructure services so that a holistic, sustainable approach becomes the rule and not the exception.

We collaborate with national and local governments, communities, developers, engineers, investors, and other stakeholders to transform the way countries plan and deliver infrastructure that supports healthy ecosystems, governance, and livelihoods. Working together, we use country-based sustainable solutions to change the way decision-makers plan, design, procure, and finance infrastructure in our priority areas and key landscapes, seascapes, and river basins.

For example, WWF works with the government of Nepal to detail processes and standards for the construction of wildlife-friendly linear infrastructure (e.g., roads, railways, canals, and power lines) and to strengthen early actions to integrate infrastructure construction with wildlife and biodiversity conservation. WWF is also collaborating with partners to support sustainable energy planning in the Greater Mekong region that promotes clean and renewable energy alternatives, contributing to energy goals without damming the area's remaining long free-flowing rivers.

Additionally, rebuilding infrastructure, water supply systems, and shelter following extreme events can cause a sudden demand for building materials and an over-extraction of natural resources. We work with disaster response agencies, including the United Nations, to make environmental issues a pillar of disaster recovery strategies by leading research and advisory support on shelter and environmental assessments, responsible building materials, land-use planning, footprint reduction, and resilience.

Experts