30th May, Berlin. DOC Research Institute, in cooperation with T20 Argentina experts, held a roundtable at DOC headquarters, entitled ‘Capacity building for Infrastructure Development in Emerging Economies’. Participants who gathered in DOC HQ represent five continents (Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Europe), which reflected the spirit of open cooperation and intercultural dialogue.
Dr. Vladimir Yakunin gave the opening remarks, highlighting the importance of professional knowledge and skills in developing infrastructure projects that foster economic growth in lesser developed countries. The possible outcomes from investment in infrastructure development should be carefully studied, he argued.
“Special attention should be paid to the fact that infrastructure investments are not a monetary ‘black hole’. They in fact have a wide range of positive effects from the very beginning of project implementation, such as job creation, local industry development, increased tax revenues, and requests for new educational services and skills. All of these positively affect the social wellbeing of a society and region” continued Yakunin.
The roundtable was moderated by Dr. Thorsten Jelinek, Europe Director of the Taihe Institute, who spoke of the eight most important factors that will transform infrastructure development, moving it in the direction of sustainability and shared prosperity. In his presentation, he noted critical divergent trends. The level of innovation in the infrastructure sector compared to other areas of production (for example, the automobile industry) is much lower. One of the factors determining this trend is the long-term nature of investments in infrastructure. Thorsten conclude that the ‘DNA’ of today’s infrastructure needs to include innovation, open and multilateral policy dialogue, proper risk-mitigation, and human-centric approaches.
The roundtable was co-hosted by T20 Argentina, which was represented by: Dr. Gabriel Lanfranchi, Co-chair of the T20 Task Force #2 on Climate Change and Infrastructure Development; Professor Pablo Ava, Director of Cities Programme, CIPPEC , Co-chair of Policy & Research, T20 Argentina; Professor, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Head of Policy and Research at the Argentina Council of Foreign Relations; and Dr. José Siaba Serrate, Chair of the T20 Task Force on Finance.
In his presentation, Dr. Gabriel Lanfranchi noted the current shift in the development paradigm, which is associated with the level of urbanisation around the world, in particular in developing countries. In the second part of his presentation he explained the policy brief concepts developed under T20 Argentina task forces, such as Enhancing climate resilience through urban infrastructure and metropolitan governance and The role of cities to mitigate climate change: A new urban paradigm and urban infrastructure. Lanfranchi continued by explaining that among the challenges we face today is the lack of the ‘metropolitan dialogue’: the lack of dialogue among the stakeholders inside complex and interconnected urban environments. Currently, no municipalities or national governments can implement projects without the involvement of civil society or businesses. Thus, he called for a change in the paradigm of development. Platforms for dialogue among stakeholders ought to be provided so there is communication on a daily basis.
Dr. Pablo Ava spoke about the positive results from infrastructure projects and the key role of investment in boosting local markets. At the same time, these projects cannot be realised only through state support, the experience of Argentina and other countries has shown that private-public-partnership (PPP) is the vital to finance infrastructure development. In addition, he stressed the importance of policy coordination and the most serious policy issues on the agenda, which should have more collaboration and coordination: education, employment, sustainable agricultural production, and migration.
Dr. José Siaba Serrate continued the discussion by addressing the challenges of ‘infrastructure gaps’. One of them is the finance gap and the second is the technological or skills gap. Multilateral development institutions are a key source for finance in long-term infrastructure projects, together with PPP. They provide a an opportunity to fill the financial gap. The proper date collection and data management is required to mitigate risks generated by the complexity and long-term nature of infrastructure projects. Information and knowledge sharing is important for cooperation and sustainable development on regional and global levels.
Professor Martino Tran, Director of the Urban Predictive Analytics Lab, Co-Director of the Master of Engineering Leadership in Urban Systems, and Assistant Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC talked about the challenges associated with planning and policy making in Smart Cities. According to him, the life cycle of city projects with a high share of information technology is lacking and it is usually developed by business and industry. The life cycle in the classical approach is long enough and depends mostly from governmental support. The investment strategy depends on analysis of supply and demand, but the key problem is who collects data in the Smart Cities and who owns and manages them. Another key point it is the training of relevant personnel – he argued that managers should have engineering skills. The main obstacle is that engineers generally are not the best at communicating the right information to policy makers.
Currently infrastructure development is one of the priorities of national development strategies in many states and regions, but seeking change is not enough to implement plans, especially in regions that are in a dreadful situation and lack the most basic infrastructure. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa & South Asia.
Dr. Valentine Udoh James, Editor-in-Chief: Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa (JSDA) pointed out that ‘Partial Sustainability’ and ‘Whole Sustainability’ in economic development require investment in capacity building of infrastructure that supports various aspects of human development. There is a need for collaboration and cooperation between governments of periphery and core regions of the world in order for the emerging economies to benefit from the growing and expanding global markets. There is a need for the private and public sectors of developing and developed countries to work together in assisting in the establishment of infrastructure in developing countries. It is quite possible to achieve a ‘win-win’ result when the development efforts of multinational organisations meet the needs and aspirations of the people of the developing or emerging economies.
Prof. Augusto Soto, Member of United Nations Global Experts, Lecturer at ESADE, Director Dialogue with China Project, highlighted that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the largest infrastructure megaproject in Chinese history. At the same time, in principle, BRI appears as one of the best ways to counter unilateralism by engaging dozens of nations in multilateral development. A comprehensive PPP applied to BRI could surmount possible obstacles and perceived threats. If consistently adapted to changing circumstances, taking into traditional and non-traditional approaches to international projects, it could become not only a flagship of multilateralism but also a real milestone.
Dr. Sebastien Goulard, Founder of Cooperans Founder and Coordinator of OBOReurope, continued on the Belt and Road Initiative: African and Asian countries need infrastructure badly, and the BRI is a solution for them to finance their infrastructure. The BRI is actually at its early stage, project financing still needs to be improved. China is working on this issue and hopes to involve more private investors on BRI projects. Countries are still free not to develop unprofitable projects: China doesn’t impose them.
Ms. Gaukhar Nurgalieva, Head of Eurasian Studies Lab, SKOLKOVO institute for Emerging Market Studies (IEMS) presented the several of the infrastructure cases implemented in Central Asia. Based on her analysis, she concluded with key conditions for successful development: “For the development of infrastructure in Eurasia we must ensure necessary level of expertise for large scale projects implementation and management. Public Private Partnership legislation and structuring is the key to success in infrastructure building in the region. Eurasia will need more talent and expertise in large-scale project management”.
In conclusion, Dr. Jiahong Chen, Research Director of DOC Research Institute invited all participants to continue the dialogue and joint research work. She noted the importance of an interdisciplinary and dialogical approach to address global challenges such as climate action and infrastructure for development.
The outcome of the roundtable will enable expanded research in cross-border and cross-institutional cooperation for sustainable infrastructure development, which is important for regional and international cooperation. The results will be implemented in the policy recommendation at the T20 Argentina summit, which will be held in Buenos Aires on 16-18 September 2018.