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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.