logoDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Capacity Development


The Division’s capacity development activities advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SAMOA Pathway and other internationally agreed development goals, guided by the outcomes of United Nations intergovernmental bodies on the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental. Capacity building activities are also aimed at strengthening and maintaining the capabilities of states and societies to design and implement strategies that minimize the negative impacts of current social, economic and environmental crises and emerging challenges. As a cross-cutting entry point, capacity building activities promote the integration of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs into national sustainable development planning frameworks, sharing lessons learned and good practices through workshops and related events. The Division’s activities also connect the 2030 Agenda and other internationally agreed development goals with selected sectoral areas, among them, sustainable energy, water and sanitation, oceans and blue economy, regions and cities, disaster risk reduction, science and technology, and promotion of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Activities seek to promote cross-cutting approaches and value of stakeholder engagement in planning and decision-making.

Demand-driven capacity development activities are delivered in conjunction with partners, including its two project offices – UNOSD and UNCRD away from the Headquarters, as well as UN regional commissions, other UN entities, and UN resident coordinators’ offices. Target countries include those interested in post-VNR follow-up, as well as countries in special situations, especially LDCs and SIDS. Activities are funded from the Regular Programme for Technical Cooperation (RPTC), Development Account, and various extra-budgetary sources.

Sustainable Development Goal Target 17.9 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the dedicated target to capacity- building and aims to "Enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the sustainable development goals, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation”. Within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, capacity-building is also mentioned by target 17.8 in the context of ensuring full operationalization of the “technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries by 2017”.

Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda deals with the means required for implementation of the Goals and targets. As reported in paragraph 41, these include the mobilization of financial resources as well as capacity-building and the transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms, as mutually agreed.

Member States also commit respectively in paragraph 109 b and 109 c “to strengthen their national institutions to complement capacity-building” and “ ensure the inclusion of capacity-building and institution-strengthening, as appropriate, in all cooperation frameworks and partnerships and their integration in the priorities and work programmes of all United Nations agencies providing assistance to small island developing States in concert with other development efforts, within their existing mandates and resources.”

Among the Means of Implementation listed under Chapter VI of the outcome document of the Rio +20 Conference, the Future We Want, capacity-building is the subject of paragraphs 277 -280. Member States commit to emphasize the need for enhanced capacity-building for sustainable-development and for the strengthening of technical and scientific cooperation, to call for the implementation of the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity-building, adopted by UNEP and to invite relevant agencies of the UN system and other international organizations to support developing countries, especially least developed countries in capacity-building for developing resource-efficient and inclusive economies.

Capacity- building is also recognized as a key issue in the Samoa Pathway for a wide range of areas, such as climate change, sustainable energy, ocean sustainability, management of chemicals and waste as well as financing. Member States strongly support the efforts of small island developing States “to improve existing mechanisms and resources to provide coordinated and coherent United Nations system-wide capacity-building programmes for small island developing States through United Nations country teams, in collaboration with national agencies, regional commissions and intergovernmental organizations, to enhance national capacities and institutions, building on the lessons and successes of the Capacity 2015 initiative” through paragraph 109 a of the Samoa Pathway.

Capacity-building is a key means of implementation in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI). The JPOI called for enhancing and accelerating human, institutional and infrastructure capacity building initiatives and for assisting developing countries in building capacity to access a larger share of multilateral and global research and development programmes.

Launching international capacity-building initiatives able to assess health and environment linkages is enumerated among the actions to undertake in the framework of strengthening, as Paragraph 54 of Chapter Vi reads “the capacity of health-care systems to deliver basic health services to all in an efficient, accessible and affordable manner aimed at preventing, controlling and treating diseases, and to reduce environmental health threats, in conformity with human rights and fundamental freedoms and consistent with national laws and cultural and religious values”.

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation also focuses on capacity-building for small island developing States and among the actions to be taken to ensure their development, Para 58(a) of Chapter VIII stress on the importance to “accelerate national and regional implementation of the Programme of Action, with adequate financial resources, including through Global Environment Facility focal areas, transfer of environmentally sound technologies and assistance for capacity -building from the international community”.

Furthermore, Chap X identifies among the means of implementation the need to “support voluntary WTO-compatible market-based initiatives for the creation and expansion of domestic and international markets for environmentally friendly goods and services, including organic products, which maximize environment al and developmental benefits through, inter alia, capacity -building and technical assistance to developing countries”.

Earlier decisions relating to capacity-building were taken by the CSD at its fourth (1996), fifth (1997) and sixth (1998) sessions and by the United Nations General Assembly at its Special Session to review the implementation of Agenda 21 (1997).

The Earth Summit recognized capacity-building as one of the means of implementation for Agenda 21. Chapter 37 of Agenda 21 gives particular focus to national mechanisms and international cooperation for capacity-building in developing countries. Importance is given to defining country needs and priorities in sustainable development through an ongoing participatory process and, in so doing, to strengthening human resource and institutional capabilities.