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About the Development Account

Thematic Reviews

Sustainable development (2003, extract out of Third Progress Report)


21. A sample of six projects3 was chosen for the review of impact in the area of sustainable development. The sampled projects were a natural outgrowth of the normative and policy activities of the implementing agencies on sustainable development, and were designed as a follow-up to the United Nations conferences and summit meetings in this area, particularly the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and Agenda 21. Most focused on assisting countries to prepare for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. They did so by helping Governments and academic institutions in developing countries keep a broader perspective of the world economic realities and better understand how partner institutions in other countries of the subregion deal with the same or similar development challenges. This was achieved through actual contact at the field level, that is, in a more direct way than is possible in established intergovernmental forums. For their part, United Nations entities without a field presence of their own were able to build, connect to and benefit from networks of local counterparts. This serves to enhance the quality and relevance of the analytical and intergovernmental preparatory work done of these entities.

22. The review revealed that those projects that focus on specific issues within sustainable development, such as small island developing States, natural resources, water and energy, and on specific measures of conference follow-up, were most effective in delivering expected results.

23. The projects varied in the clarity of their initial design. Projects with clearly defined objectives were easier to assess. However, even in cases where the initial objectives were fairly broad, the implementing entities were in most cases able to make effective use of the resources, eventually focusing on a limited number of issues, thus increasing final impact, particularly through networks. In future programming, special attention should be given to better defining the geographical focus, specific beneficiaries and expected accomplishments.

24. The project of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the implementation of Agenda 21 resulted in the setting-up of a regional network for sustainability indicators in Latin America. Advisory support on indicators, information for decision-making and national development strategies were also provided to Costa Rica, Bolivia, the Sudan and Mauritania. One of the first funded from the Account, the project as originally designed attempted too large a canvas on which to work. The actual activities undertaken, although individually successful, do not allow for a measurement of broader impact. In the light of this experience, subsequent projects in the field of sustainable development have been better focused on a subregion or a specific group of countries and have avoided addressing the gamut of issues arising from a particular global conference. While seeking cross-linkages with other conferences, in keeping with the spirit of the integrated and coordinated follow-up to international conferences, projects normally should not spread limited resources across conferences and regions but offer strategies for attaining specific, tangible results and impacts.

25. The project on capacity-building in strategic planning and management of natural resources in Asia and the Pacific, executed by ESCAP, was well focused on the environment and natural resources dimension of sustainable development. Numerous concrete outputs, such as 10 case studies, encapsulating findings on good practices and lessons learned, the Guidelines on Strategic Planning and Management of the Energy and Water Sectors, and a network of some 74 experts from 24 countries, resulting from the project, all contribute to the project’s success. ESCAP serves as the nerve centre for this network of regional and subregional institutions and experts. The guidelines have been translated into Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese, thus contributing to enhanced national teams’ understanding of the strategic planning and management concept. Through group discussions, nearly 300 experts have developed closer ties to their counterparts. Building on support from subregional organizations and ESCAP, countries have expressed interest in participating in the next phase of the project to be expanded to the national level. ESCAP intends to continue its support to the network.

26. A joint project of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the regional commissions chose strategic planning and management as its focus for capacity-building to improve water management and accelerate investments in the water sector. It aims to achieve three specific targets, clearly related to the freshwater goals of Agenda 21: to create a network of national, basin and local institutions involved in the water sector, to establish a network of five international river basin organizations and to develop and launch a United Nations virtual learning centre. To date, the project’s accomplishments include: the creation of a network of 15 national focal points, 15 national sub-basin agencies and 5 relevant local initiatives, and the design of 6 out of the 8 core courses of the curriculum of the virtual university. The project design is highly innovative and the lessons learned should be carried over to other disciplines where such networks and virtual universities can be developed.

27. A relatively small project to build capacities for decision-making in sustainable development, though twinning two small island developing States, undertaken by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs was reprogrammed to focus on capacity-building related systems for sustainable development in the Caribbean small island developing States. More than 30 organizations in the Caribbean region involved in the production, management, processing and use of information for sustainable development established, jointly with the Caribbean Conservation Association, a list server for the regional environmental information network. To support the network, the project will focus on the development of training materials, the dissemination of information on best practices, the provision of equipment to support training and further organizing training at the national level.

28. A complex and innovative joint ECE/ESCAP project undertook to promote the rational and efficient use of energy and water resources in the economies of Central Asia. Its purpose was to assist five Central Asian countries to implement the Energy Charter Treaty of 1991 and the Energy Charter Protocol on Energy Efficiency and Related Environmental Aspects of 1994, to which they are signatories. The objective was pursued through a set of activities aimed at strengthening skills of national decision-makers and experts in rational and efficient use of energy and water resources, thus enhancing the ability of Member States to engage in cooperative and negotiated approaches to solving transboundary issues. A strategy for rational and efficient energy and water utilization, developed in the context of the project, resulted in the creation of a bilateral commission on the Chu and Talas rivers between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Subsequently, statutes and other basic materials to support the work of the commission were prepared. The project is a positive example of regional cooperation on transboundary waters. The initiative has received support from Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

29. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development capacity-building and policy networking project for sustainable resource-based development is another example of a well-focused activity concentrating on a specific development issue, using the tradable natural resources sector (timber, oil and gas and minerals) to achieve diversified growth and sustainable development, a challenge for many resource-rich developing countries that wish to transit from a resource income to a knowledge-based development process. The project, which has completed most of its activities and produced its outputs in line with the work plan, has established expert networks supported by a series of seminars and web sites. The project has also attracted considerable in-kind support as well as resources from various institutions, including the International Council on Mining and Metals, UNEP, ECA and the United Kingdom. Needs assessment missions have helped to identify specific national and regional needs and to differentiate and design activities to complement and enhance ongoing capacity-building activities in each region. Thus, in the Latin America and Caribbean region, the focus of the project’s activities is on local authorities, whereas in Africa the emphasis is on complementing macroeconomic policy initiatives that promote stability. Multiplier effects are already evident as new and previously isolated networks integrate with project activities and significantly expand the project’s outreach. This will eventually translate into greater creativity and enhance the quality of capacity-building at the national and local level.