Challenges to Sustainable Development


Several challenges threaten progress towards sustainable development goals. The spike in food and energy prices in 2008 led to a severe food crisis. The subsequent fall of energy prices has eased some of the pressure on energy importing countries. Yet, food prices remain high. The global financial and economic crisis in 2009 has exacerbated the situation: Growth rates are falling, unemployment is rising, poverty in deepening, hunger and malnutrition are on the increase again, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is in jeopardy.

DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) is the substantive secretariat to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and seeks to enhance the integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions in policy-making at international, regional and national levels. The division also promotes the adoption of an integrated and broadly participatory approach to sustainable development, aimed at measurable progress in the implementation of the goals and targets of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.


The world is currently facing extremely difficult challenges to sustainable development and environmental management. The food crisis, energy crisis, financial crisis, a global recession and, of course, the looming climate crisis are all interconnected and the only way of addressing them effectively is through integrated solutions.

At the Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting (IPM) for the seventeenth Session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) , held in New York 23-27 February 2009, many delegations expressed their concerns regarding the impacts of the financial and economic crisis on sustainable development, including on trade financing for food and other essential imports and on farmers’ access to credit.

Sustainable development is the bridge, between environmental, economic and social goals, between north and south, between Governments, civil society and business, between science and policy, and between policy and action. CSD provides a powerful forum for guiding a prompt and sustainable response to these urgent development challenges, including the financial and economic crisis.


DSD contributes to analysis of impacts of the financial and economic crisis on sustainable development prospects of developing countries, focusing in particular on countries with vulnerable economies, including Africa and Small Island Developing States.

The division also conducts analytical studies to inform and support the intergovernmental consultations. Recent analysis has placed particular focus on the challenges faced in the sustainable development of agriculture.

Partnerships and cooperation

Partnerships: mobilizing for action

Partnerships for sustainable development – voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiatives aimed at implementing sustainable development – were an important outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002), and an important complement to governmental action.

Partnerships enable all stakeholders to make concrete contributions to the implementation of sustainable development goals and commitments outlined in international agreements. The need to engage these actors in implementation has become more pressing in view of the food crisis, energy crisis, financial crisis and global recession – making partnerships an effective vehicle for promoting sustainable development in a globalizing world.

Technical and policy advisory services

Advisory services emphasize in particular on the development and management of water and energy related infrastructure and policies, and on the development and implementation of national sustainable development strategies.

Inter-organizational and inter-agency cooperation

DSD facilitates inter-agency mechanisms (including UN-Water, UN-Energy and UN-Oceans) and inter-organizational cooperation, exchange and sharing of information, and catalyzes joint activities and partnerships within the United Nations system and with other international organizations, governments and civil society groups in support of sustainable development.