Although construction contractors from Asia and Europe are pledging to collaborate on building infrastructure that promotes economic growth and international ties, a former United Nations secretary-general is challenging the global construction industry to go further and expand its efforts to address climate change.

Ban Ki-moon earlier this month praised attendees of the Global Infrastructure Cooperation Conference in Seoul, South Korea, sponsored by the International Contractors Association of Korea, for being like “the U.N. of contractors” in representing various countries. “Without developed infrastructure, no country can fulfill the basic needs of human life,” he said. But he added that the industry contributes 40% to total global energy consumption, and transportation alone contributes 23% to greenhouse gases.

“I urge you to do your part to improve air quality,” he said. Referring to a global rise in “protectionism and xenophobia,” he added, “however powerful or rich one is, there is nothing one can do alone in this world.”

Rail Vision

Along the lines of increasing sustainability and international connections, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport of South Korea hosted a seminar on a vision of a railroad network connecting the Koreas, China, Russia, Mongolia, Japan and, tradewise, the U.S.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed the initiative last year, saying its purpose is to pursue peace and co-prosperity based on infrastructure investment and economic cooperation in East Asia. Representatives from governments of all the countries except the U.S. praised the idea, but noted challenges such as “geopolitical uncertainty and lack of trust,” said Hirofumi Arai, director of the Economic Research Institute of Northeast Asia.

Bernard Aritua, senior infrastructure specialist with the World Bank, observed that “not only must the backbone be identified, but also last-mile connections and hubs.”

By Aileen Cho in Seoul, South Korea