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Selected key issues

DSD has special responsibility for small island developing States, National Sustainable Development Strategies, indicators for sustainable development, water, energy, consumption and production patterns and such cross-cutting issues as resource mobilization and other means of implementing the Rio and Johannesburg commitments. It also serves as secretariat for the UN system-wide coordination mechanisms UN-Water and UN-Energy and plays an active role in UN-Oceans.

Small island developing States (SIDS)

SIDS are particularly vulnerable because of their small population and economies, weak institutional capacity in both the public and the private sectors, remoteness from international markets and susceptibility to natural disasters and climate change. In 1995, the UN created a special unit for SIDS within DSD to facilitate follow-up to the broad range of actions called for in the 1994 BPOA. To support the work of the SIDS Unit, DSD administers the Small Island Developing States Information Network (SIDSNET), which connects 43 island nations of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean, Mediterranean and South China Seas.

National Sustainable Development Strategies

Sustainable development requires looking at the totality of social, economic and environmental concerns. It also needs the involvement not only of Governments but also of civil society and the private sector. For these reasons, global conferences, including the 1992 Earth Summit and WSSD, have repeatedly called on Governments to develop and implement integrative and participatory National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS).

DSD supports States in developing and assessing their NSDS through technical guidance and capacity-building programmes, workshops, shared learning and strategy reviews.

Indicators for sustainable development

States need to assess and evaluate their policies to ensure that their impacts are as intended. This requires the use of indicators that reflect countries' concerns and priorities as called for in Agenda 21. In 1992, at the time of the Earth Summit, indicators for sustainable development (ISD) had not yet been developed or tested.

DSD began its programme of ISD in 1994. In cooperation with other organizations, it has developed a core set of ISD for use at the national level, which it continues to review and revise. The Division also supports States in developing their own national ISD programmes through workshops and capacity-building projects. DSD contributes as well to the indicators that have been developed for the Millennium Development Goals. Guidelines and methodological descriptions are
available on the DSD website.


Energy use is necessary for socio-economic development; yet it is associated with adverse environmental impacts. This dilemma poses an ongoing challenge for countries around the world. States agreed at WSSD that action should be taken to improve access to reliable and affordable energy to facilitate the goal of halving the proportion of people living in poverty and as a means of generating other important services to mitigate poverty. States also decided to take action to improve energy efficiency, increase the use of renewable energy, utilize advanced and cleaner energy technologies, implement transport strategies for sustainable development, reduce harmful subsidies and market distortions, and promote the use of cleaner fuels.

DSD provides advisory services and technical assistance in the field of energy to build capacity, strengthen institutions, promote increased energy investments and encourage the involvement of all stakeholders in implementing Agenda 21 and the JPOI. Key focus areas are energy efficiency, renewable energy, transport, gender and energy, and energy access.


Access to safe water is fundamental to life. This is emphasized in Agenda 21 and reiterated in the JPOI, which endorsed the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. The General Assembly gave special recognition to the importance of freshwater when, on 22 March 2005, it launched the International Decade of Action "Water for Life", 2005-2015.

DSD provides both technical assistance and policy advice to countries to assist them in meeting the 2015 targets on water and sanitation, and to promote and support integrated water resources management.

Promoting more sustainable patterns of consumption and production - The Marrakesh Process

Changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production is one of the overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development, as recognized by WSSD. The Summit called for the development of a 10-year framework of programme in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production. The first international expert meeting on this framework was held in June 2003 in Marrakesh.

DSD is responsible for facilitating the Marrakesh Process, which includes regular global and regional meetings, informal expert task forces and round tables to promote progress on the 10-year framework. In the Division, particular focus is currently given to environmental management accounting, sustainable public procurement and clean technology strategies.

Means of implementation and other cross-cutting issues

The achievement of sustainable development objectives requires strong political will, sound policies, institutions and governance, and effective international cooperation.  Open and equitable multilateral trading and financial systems are essential, including market access to products of interest to developing countries. Challenges facing Africa deserve particular attention, including the crucial link between health and sustainable development.

The Division undertakes analysis of the key cross-cutting issues enumerated in the JPOI, with particular attention to the challenges of resource mobilization, including through development of innovative financing arrangements and mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels.


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