United Nations Development Programme

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the UN’s global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience, and resources in order to help people build a better life for themselves.

The establishment of the UNDP was decided upon by the UN General Assembly in 1965 (A/RES/2029), so it could take up its work in January 1966 with the merger of the Expanded Program of Technical Assistance (EPTA) and the United Nations Special Fund.1 Since 1966, the scale of UNDP operations has vastly expanded. As one of the most widespread of all UN organizations, the UNDP nowadays works in 177 countries and territories in order to find short-, middle- and long-term solutions to global and national development challenges.2 It has proven to be successful at offering a global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

The status of the UNDP is that of an executive board within the United Nations General Assembly. The UNDP Administrator is the third highest-ranking official of the United Nations after the United Nations Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General. The position is currently held by Achim Steiner, who was appointed in April 2017, succeeding Helen Clark.3 The UNDP Executive Board is made up of representatives from 36 countries which serve on a rotating basis. Through its Bureau, consisting of representatives from five regional groups, the Board oversees and supports the activities of the UNDP, ensuring that the organization remains responsive to the evolving needs of Programme countries. In 2017, the UNDP’s entire budget amounted to US$ 4.9 billion.4

At the global level, the UNDP chairs the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) which unites the 32 UN funds, programmes, agencies, departments, and offices that play a role in development.5

Furthermore, the UNDP helps reinforce joint action on development in forums such as the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly. At the national and regional level, the UNDP plays two important roles – one as a partner for development work and the other as manager of the Resident Coordinator system. Through its coordination activities, the UNDP seeks to ensure maximum effectiveness in the use of UN and international aid resources.6

Since 2015 UNDP has largely focused on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also called Global Goals, a set of seventeen goals for the Member States, ending in 2030. The SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight goals for 2015.

Overall, the programme helps countries build and share solutions in three main areas:

  • Democratic Governance and Peacebuilding
  • Sustainable Development
  • Climate and Disaster Resilience

In addition, since 1990, the UNDP has annually commissioned the Human Development Report, which includes topics concerning Human Development and contains the annual Human Development Index (HDI).7 The UNDP also administers the UN Capital Development Fund, which helps developing countries to improve their economies by supplementing existing sources of capital assistance by means of grants and loans 8 and UN Volunteers, which fields over 6,000 volunteers from 160 countries in support of peace and development through volunteerism worldwide.9

Key development results from 2014 to 2017 were (among others): 3 million jobs were created, 6.7 million people in 55 countries gained access to energy services, 4.1 million people gained access to improved justice and legal aid and 104 countries implemented low-emission and climate-resilient measures.10

In all its activities, the UNDP encourages the protection of human rights and the empowerment of women, minorities and the poorest and most vulnerable.


1 Consolidation of the Special Fund and the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance in a United Nations Development Progamme GA Res 2029, XX (1965).
2 UNDP (2014) UNDP Website. A world of development experience. www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/operations/ about_us/ (Retrieved on 20.10.2014).
3 UNDP (2018) UNDP Website. Our leadership. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/about-us/our-   leadership.html (Retrieved on 03.10.2018).
4 UNDP (2018). UNDP Annual Report 2017. https://annualreport2017.undp.org/ (Retrieved on 03.10.2018).
5 UNDP Development Group (2014) UNDG Website. www.undg.org/content/about_the_undg (Retrieved on 20.10.2014).
6 UNDP Fact Sheet (2012).
7 UNDP Human Development Reports (2014) UNDP Website. www.hdr.undp.org/en (Retrieved on 20.10.2014).
8 UN Capital Development Fund (2014) UNCDF Website. www.uncdf.org/ (Retrieved on 20.10. 2014)
9 UN Volunteers (2014) UNV Website. www.unv.org/ (Retrieved on 20.10.2014)
10 UNDP (2018) UNDP Website. Results at a Glance. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/about-us/results-at-a-glance.html (Retrieved on 03.10.2018)


Topic I: The Green Wall – Strategies Against Desertification

Desertification happens on every continent, affecting almost every human directly or indirectly, but is weakly present in public awareness. Nevertheless, there are many problems of our time that root in Desertification, the (irreversible) loss of fertile ground. For example, expanding deserts cause massive migration, especially observable in the Sub-Sahel zone.

In 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has been established, an international agreement to combat desertification in the most vulnerable areas on our planet. The signatories agreed on collaboration to limit the spread of deserts and to restore arid areas. The latest review, UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework, aims for restoring the productivity of degraded land and to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). Facing an estimated annual loss of land in the size of Germany, achieving LDN is ambitious and requires intense collaboration among the 197 parties that signed the Convention.

A paragon for a strategy against desertification is the Great Green Wall. The plan from 2005 is to protect peoples living in the Sub-Sahel zone from the expanding Sahel Desert, by growing an 8000 km green belt coast to coast from Senegal to Djibouti and trough nine other countries.
Results are already observable in terms of restored land and social effects. The initiative fosters education and creates new jobs in one of the poorest regions in the world. The plan, therefore, connects several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by improving Live on Land (15) and strengthening Quality Education (4).

However, desertification is human-made and increases inequalities by affecting the poor and vulnerable first. Therefore, strategies against desertification must combine projects regionally and sustainable development globally.


Topic II: The Way Towards Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns

The concept of sustainable development originated in the 1980s with the World Conservation Strategy developed by the United Nations Environment Programme and others, followed by important milestones like the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Especially at the Johannesburg conference calls for establishing sustainable consumption and production as a global goal were made. Among the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) introduced in 2016 and supposed to be achieved by 2030 you find Goal 12 that reads: “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. Targets for this goal are, among others, 12.2 “By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources” or 12.6 “Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle”.

Progress is measured and reported every year, however, compared to other goals, progress is little regarding Goal 12. This is surprising, taking into account the huge impact consumption and production patterns have on the environment and sustainable development. Furthermore, it is surprising since this goal was explicitly requested by nations. It might be the role consumption and production patterns play in the world economic system. Or that economic growth is key, especially for developing countries. With the SDGs being universally valid, both industrialized and developing countries are confronted with the task of implementing this goal.

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