REDD+ Expert Interview: Mubariq Ahmad, Indonesia Special REDD+ Team

Posted on 30 December 2013    
Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, Indonesia REDD+ Task Force. 2013
© courtesy of Dr. Mubariq Ahmad
Dr. Mubariq Ahmad is a member of Indonesia’s Special REDD+ Team, was the former chair of the Strategy Working Group with the Presidential Task Force on REDD+, is Adviser for Climate Change Policy at the World Bank Indonesia Office, taught at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Indonesia, and has served on the international editorial board of Elsevier’s Journal of Forest Policy and Economics since 2000, among his many current and former responsibilities. He holds a Natural Resources and Environmental Economics (Michigan State University, 1997), an MA in International Trade and Finance (Economics Department, Columbia University, New York, 1990), and a Bachelor in Economics from University of Indonesia (1985).

What is your position and what does it entail?

I am currently a member of Indonesia’s Special REDD+ Team which was established by the Head of The Presidential Delivery Unit to act as a bridging institution between the REDD+ Task Force, which ended its service on June 30, 2013, and the soon-to-be established REDD+ Agency. While the Task Force was in operation, from January 2011 to June 2013, I was the Chair of the REDD+ Strategy Working Group. I am doing this REDD+ related work under a secondment arrangement from The World Bank Indonesia, where I have been serving as an adviser for the integration of climate change issues into economic policies to the World Bank Indonesia and its governmental partner institutions since 2009. Prior to that, I was the CEO of the WWF-Indonesia from 2003 – 2009 where I oversaw, among other things, the start of the Heart of Borneo project, which focuses on tropical forest conservation in Indonesia.

What is your background and how did you get involved in this field of work?

I have an undergraduate degree in economics (development studies) from the University of Indonesia, a master’s degree in economics with a focus on international trade and finance from Columbia University, and a PhD in natural resources and environmental economics from Michigan State University.  So, in short, I have been involved in economics for many years.

As a child, I grew up on the Kerinci tea plantation in Sumatra, which is a very beautiful setting high in the mountains on the edge of the forest, so I came to love nature from a young age. I enjoy working in a field that combines both my interest in economics and my appreciation of the rich landscapes we have here in Indonesia.

How did you get involved in REDD+ work and what are your specific areas of focus?

I’ve been working in forestry economics and policy issues since 1990, so I was exposed to the REDD+ initiative from its beginning. I started my involvement in Indonesia’s REDD+ Initiative right after the signing of the Indonesia-Norway Letter of Intent (May 2010). Before the REDD+ Presidential Task Force was established, I initiated a meeting of 12 independent forestry experts to discuss REDD+– what it would take to make it work, how the REDD+ strategy should be developed, the core issues to be addressed, the technical forestry angles, etc. We submitted and presented the results as an independent group to the Ministry of Forestry, Ministry of Finance, National Council on Climate Change, and later to the leadership of Presidential REDD+ Task Force. Most of these original thoughts found their ways into the final National REDD+ Strategy.

The first round of national strategy development, led by the National Planning Agency, happened in the second part of 2010, and I participated in that occasionally when needed and invited. In the second round of strategy development, which began in early 2011, I was invited to be part of a five-person team to write the National REDD+ Strategy based on previously prepared documents and processes.

Later on, I led the Strategy Working Group under the REDD+ Task Force to finalize the National REDD+ Strategy and lead the process of developing National REDD+ Action Plans and 11 Provincial Strategy and Action Plans for REDD+ Implementation. As member of the current Special REDD+ Team, I am leading the process of preparing a set of guidelines for a jurisdictional approach to REDD+ implementation.

What do you like best about working in REDD+?

My work is a way of using economics to save the forests, or, in other words, it’s an opportunity for us to see if good applications of economic theories can help us maintain the integrity of our landscape. I love using the diverse skills I have developed over my 20-year career and I’m quite excited to see if the economic policy instruments we have can be applied in the Indonesian context. We won’t be able to enjoy the carbon benefits of the forest if we don’t first manage the forests well, and the only way we can do that is to improve our governance, forest management, and overall land use.  For the past ten years, we have been working on laying the groundwork for better forest governance by getting rid of bottlenecks and improving coordination across institutions, which I find very interesting and fulfilling. This is an important time for us to harness the momentum created by REDD+ to really push people to be aware of the need to make changes in governance for a sustainable future.

What have been some of challenges of getting the REDD+ Task Force started?

Externally to the Task Force, the toughest challenge in developing the national REDD+ strategy is bringing together 18 ministries and national institutions to discuss the idea of reforming and harmonizing policies related to forest and land governance and management. Eleven of these 18 institutions are affecting the forest and land use directly so as you can imagine, there are different approaches to and opinions on many of the issues we are working through.

Internally, I have found that building a coherent view of what constitutes a “business unusual approach” among the members of Task Force and the members of the working groups challenging.

What are the goals of the Task Force?

The primary goals of the Task Force are to develop the overall REDD+ implementation system ranging from developments of the strategy to the operational designs, to establish or build capacity of relevant institutions and finally, to build buy-in and support from the technical ministries and overall stakeholders.

What have been the biggest achievements since its start a few years ago?

On the strategy front, we have developed the National REDD+ Strategy, National REDD+ Action Plan, ten Provincial Strategies and Action Plans, and the Draft Concept Note for the Design Process of Jurisdictional Approach for REDD+ Implementation.

On the institution building front, designs are ready for the REDD+ Agency, MRV Institution and System, and the Funding Mechanism and Trust Fund. The Special REDD+ Team is now finalizing the REDD+ safeguard system and an approach for the application of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

Some progress has also been made in developing mechanisms to mainstream the policies and actions for REDD+ implementation that are best provided by the government. This includes strategic actions like finishing finalizing spatial plans and forest boundaries.

How are national institutions like the Ministry of Forestry and the REDD+ Task Force continuing to improve the systems for REDD+ in Indonesia?

We haven’t begun the full implementation yet, but the Task Force has sponsored partial implementation in the pilot province of Central Kalimantan. So far the Task Force and the Ministry of Forestry have room for improvement when it comes to working together closely, but with the inauguration of the REDD+ Agency, we are looking forward to better coordination and synergy, not just with those two groups, but also with the Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as with sub-national governments of the 11 REDD+ priority provinces.

What are you most excited about for the future of REDD+ in Indonesia?

If REDD+ is implemented consistently, it will change the forest resource and land-use governance significantly toward establishing a basis for a green economy and sustainable development overall, which is a huge step forward.

Do you have any final words to share with our readers?

Please don’t give up hope on Indonesia’s forests. While you certainly see that there are many challenges, there are good people working at various levels to fight for better forest and land governance in Indonesia. We are working through complex economic and land management questions in our country, but if REDD+ works in Indonesia, it can be an entry point for an entire green economy movement. We are looking to change the system in a very significant way and are excited for the future of REDD+ here.

(Reporting by Breen Byrnes, WWF Communications and Learning Programme Officer)

Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, Indonesia REDD+ Task Force. 2013
© courtesy of Dr. Mubariq Ahmad Enlarge

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