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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Capacity Development


Our approach to 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 energywater and sanitationoceans and blue economyregions and citiesdisaster 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 our two project offices away from the Headquarters (UNOSD and UNCRD ) as well as UN regional commissions, other UN entities, and UN resident coordinators’ offices. Target countries include those interested in follow-up to their Voluntary National Reviews, 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, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Sub-Fund of the United Nations Peace and Development Trust Fund.

The RPTC, which complements other funding sources, allows a fast and flexible response to requests of Member States for short-term assistance to meet small-scale capacity development-related challenges.

The 2030 Agenda and capacity-building

The 2030 Agenda recognizes that capacity-building forms part of the means of implementation for the SDGs (paragraph 41). Each SDG contains targets relating to means of implementation, including capacity- building. Moreover, SDG 17, which covers means of implementation and the global partnership for sustainable development, contains target 17.9which 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”.


Capacity building for 2030 Agenda implementing – what we do

Countries interested in capacity development support are invited to visit our contact form and select "Capacity development support" under the category of your message.


Capacity-building: Historical context

Capacity-building has long been recognized as one of the means of implementation for the achievement of sustainable development. This is reflected in the outcome documents and action plans adopted by major international conferences on sustainable development. Agenda 21, adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, addresses capacity-building in its Chapter 37. Decisions relating to capacity-building were taken by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development 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 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), adopted at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development also recognized the importance of capacity-building for the achievement of sustainable development. Similarly, the outcome document of the Rio +20 Conference, the Future We Want, emphasized the need for enhanced capacity-building for sustainable-development and for the strengthening of technical and scientific cooperation. In the context of small island developing states, capacity- building is also recognized as a key issue in the 2014 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. 

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  • January 2015 Target 17.9
    Target 17.9 is the target devoted to capacity-building and reads "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". Capacity-building is also mentioned by target 17.8 which aims to "fully operationalize the technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries by 2017 and enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology". The importance of capacity-building is also stressed in the context of water and sanitation - related activities and programmes in target 6.a.
  • January 2015 AAAA (Chap. 2 G)
    Member States commit to promote capacity -building, particularly in least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States and commit to work to strengthen capacity -building in the area of domestic capital markets in developing countries and least developed countries through regional, inter regional and global forums for knowledge -sharing, technical assistance and data-sharing. Member States will also also enhance capacity for monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing vessels so as to effectively prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,
  • January 2014 SAMOA (Para 108-109)
    Capacity- building is considered as a key issue for a wide range of areas, such as climate change, sustainable energy, ocean sustainability, management of chemicals and waste as well as financing. Therefore, 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” and commit “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”.
  • 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 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. Capacity-building is addressed in the context of assessing health and environment linkages, in relation to small island developing States and the acceleration of national and regional implementation of the Programme of Action”. 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 environmental and developmental benefits through, inter alia, capacity -building and technical assistance to developing countries”.
  • The Commission on Sustainable Development: encourages Governments to review, where necessary, existing planning processes and policies to assess their capacity-building requirements; urges funding agencies to give support to national capacity-building activities, in particular in developing countries, including in the areas of the design of programmes and projects, and their implementation and evaluation, through demand-driven approaches, emphasizing facilitation and stressing a programmatic rather than a project-oriented framework for capacity-building; recommends that capacity-building efforts be intensified where necessary, based on participatory approaches, with the aim of having national sustainable development strategies, or their equivalent, fully in place by 2002 for implementation and taking into account the environmental, social and economic needs of developing countries, and urges financial institutions and operational agencies, particularly through the United Nations Development Programme’s Capacity 21 programme, to enhance their assistance in this regard. The Commission also encourages Governments at all levels to share experiences with and support innovative capacity-building programmes which feature greater public access to information, and broad participation, including by the private sector, at national and local levels and invites the United Nations Development Programme, in cooperation with other relevant bodies, to promote the exchange and dissemination of information on successful capacity-building efforts and to make information available, as appropriate, to future sessions of the Commission.
  • The GA 19th Special Session acknowledges the importance, in paragraph 98, of "renewed commitment and support from the international community to national efforts for capacity-building in developing countries and countries with economies in transition". The GA also identifies, in paragraph 99, the role of the United Nations Development Programme, in giving "priority attention to building capacity for the elaboration of sustainable development strategies based on participatory approaches.
  • Decision 4/10 is devoted to the transfer of environmentally sound technologies, cooperation and capacity-building, whereas capacity -building is treated in Decision 4/12 in relation to the National mechanisms and international cooperation for capacity-building indeveloping countries.
  • January 1992 Agenda 21 (Chap.37)
    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.