Building Magazine


WEB EXCLUSIVE: Scientists urge G20 to rethink $80 trillion infrastructure plan to avoid ‘doubling down on a dangerous vision’

A proposal by Bent Flyvbjerg, BT Professor and Chair of Major Programme Management at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, that could, if implemented, halt the 90 per cent failure rate of industrial infrastructure projects, is at the heart of strong recommendations made to the G20 ahead of its November meeting in Turkey and the Climate Summit in Paris.

In an open letter to the heads of the G20 nations, organised by Foundation Earth, 88 of the world’s top scientists, environmentalists, and opinion-leaders have warned that the G20’s pursuit of privately financed mega-infrastructure projects could have catastrophic economic and environmental consequences.    

“Corporate-led economic globalisation hasn’t delivered nearly enough for at least two of the more than seven billion people on Earth,” said the letter. “It has transferred and consolidated power, effectively crippling the people’s governing rights. It has concentrated wealth within the top 1 percent and caused record-setting gaps between rich and poor. While many accomplishments have been made in raising living standards and advancing technologies, they have also come at a great price to the health of the planet … Developing more infrastructure in support of this failed economic model is doubling down on a dangerous vision.”

Quoting Professor Flyvbjerg’s research, which shows that over the past 70 years, nine out of ten infrastructure projects have experienced cost overruns, delays, and benefit shortfalls, the letter claims that, “Trillions of dollars spent in pursuit of typical mega-projects in the energy, transportation, agriculture, and water sectors could put in place infrastructure that eliminates wildlife habitat, destroys fisheries, undermines vital ecosystems, and further destabilises the Earth’s climate. This process is beset with other problems like corruption, cost overruns, fiscal accountability, and human rights abuses.”

The letter’s authors have recommended that mega-infrastructure projects should be replaced by “smaller-scale, ecologically smarter and more flexible” projects. In line with what they have called the “Flyvbjerg Proposal”, they have argued for the creation of an independent body which would compare any proposed infrastructure project to the historical record of project types of the same size on cost estimates, completion dates, and benefit projections. Any proposal that falls outside this range should be rejected, they say.

“I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments and recommendations of the Foundation Earth letter,” said Professor Flyvbjerg.”‘As they have argued, infrastructure mega-projects are a relic of governmental grandiosity and developer hubris that historically have never delivered the benefits they promised. My research has revealed no evidence that either the commissioners or developers of these large-scale projects have learnt from the mistakes of the past – and yet the G20 unaccountably seems set on a path of replication and intensification. I hope that the recipients of this letter have the courage to make the bold changes recommended, for the good of mankind and the planet.”

See the full letter to the President of the G20 nations here:
Professor Flyvberg’s paper, “Survival of the unfittest: why the worst infrastructure gets built – and what we can do about it,” here:

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