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Editor's Note: Greater Than Its Parts 

Issue #216 | 26 November 2013

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By: Lynn Wagner, Ph.D., Group Director, SDG Knowledge, IISD <>

Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council members, in their discussion on the GEF's 2020 strategy, called up the old adage that the “sum should be greater than its parts.”

In this case, GEF Council members were discussing the “transformative change” that they want the GEF to help bring about. The GEF's role, they said, should be more than individual projects, although they noted it had been involved in many interesting projects. Instead, the GEF funding should be catalyzing a bigger change towards sustainability than any one project was able to facilitate.

This week, at UN Headquarters, discussions in the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are analogous to the GEF Council's discussions. The OWG has been encouraged to think of their task as identifying goals that school children will be able to understand and that will facilitate discussions at the local level. The work required to achieve sustainable development is too great to be left to international treaty bodies alone, but must engage stakeholders in problem solving at all levels, delegates were told, to spur the transformation that the SDGs might be able to deliver.

Meanwhile, our climate teams, like many of our readers, are returning from a grueling two week conference in Warsaw, and over the coming months, many analysts will look at the newly adopted climate decisions to see if their sum is greater than the parts. Delegates in Poland reached agreements on the Durban Platform, the Green Climate Fund and Long-Term Finance, the “Warsaw Framework for REDD Plus” and the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.” The climate challenge remains large, however, and as UNFCCC Executive Secretary Figueres has said, governments are not finished yet: they “must go back to do their homework so they can put their plans on the table ahead of the Paris conference” and keep working until the "momentum for change" that the Secretariat has highlighted at recent climate conferences has transformed into the status quo.

As with these policy discussions, this issue of Linkages Update could be read for its individual stories related to key sustainable development topics. But our aim in publishing this publication is to also bring the knowledge that we are gathering together, to provide our readers a glimpse of the trends and overall level of effort with which the international community is pursuing the whole of sustainable development.