Interview with Álvaro Luna, director of the M-REDD+ Alliance

Interviewed by Yessenia Soto, Rainforest Alliance

We have to make it very clear that millions of people depend on forest resources for their livelihoods and that the deforestation and degradation of these forests is a key factor in the increasing strength and intensity of natural disasters.”

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The governments of Mexico and the United States, with support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), established a Climate Change Cooperation Mechanism this year that provided the framework needed to prepare a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Mexico (M-REDD+) project.

This large, five-year program is being implemented by the M-REDD+ Alliance, a consortium of leading international and Mexican conservation organizations. Alliance director Alvaro Luna talked with us about what it is doing to help stakeholders implement the REDD+ project in Mexico.

Question: How was the M-REDD+ Alliance formed?

Luna:  The Rainforest Alliance, the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature, Woods Hole Research Center, and The Nature Conservancy came together and developed a proposal in response to USAID’s solicitation for proposals for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Mexico (M-REDD +) project.

Alvaro Luna

Alvaro Luna

Q: What are the Alliance’s objectives?

Luna: Our main goal is to support Mexico, both civil society and the government, in its preparations to implement REDD+ activities, a mechanism that will officially begin implementation in 2020. We’re helping to strengthen policies and the legal framework necessary for carrying out the future REDD+ strategy, building technical and institutional capacities related to REDD+, and helping to create a financial structure to attract private, public, national, and international funds that will also effectively and equitably support REDD+ activities.  We’re also helping to set up a national system for Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV), which is essential in identifying the real contribution and impact of REDD+ activities.  Finally, we’re developing a communication strategy that supports the government, public, and private sectors in the adoption of the mechanism and the activities of the initiative.

Q: How much time will it take to prepare the country to implement the REDD+ project?

Luna: The Alliance has funding for the next five years, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. This is a very complex project because all of our activities require a lot of coordination among the government, civil society, and the private sector. Nearly all of our goals require an extensive analysis of the current situation so we can develop our proposals within the legal and policymaking frameworks, to determine the baseline needed for the MRV system, to establish which professional and technical skills are still needed and must be developed, and so on.

Q: Is the government willing to make the necessary changes?

Luna: We think so, but it will depend on how successfully we demonstrate the importance of REDD+, not only as a forestry initiative but as a necessary tool for the country’s security. We have to make it very clear that millions of people depend on forest resources for their livelihoods and that the deforestation and degradation of these forests are key factors in the increasing strength and intensity of natural disasters. In this regard, support from civil society and the international community will be vital in getting Mexico to follow up on the promises it has made, for example, at the COP 16 Climate Summit in Cancun and through Mexico’s new Climate Change Act.

Q: How do you hope to gain support from the general public?

Luna:  In large part, through our comprehensive communication strategy and the way we position ourselves within civil society.  People cannot participate if they’re not informed, so we must ensure that the general public, which heavily depends on natural resources, and decision-makers understand and take ownership of the issue and actively participate in the national strategy for REDD+ implementation. We plan to create short videos, plays, and documentaries that explain what REDD+ is, its implications and its benefits for forest communities.  We’ll also use the same tools to demonstrate the experiences and achievements of communities participating in the field projects.

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Q: How will you build capacity?

Luna: There is a huge need to provide training in the technologies used in MRV –  since this is a relatively new topic, not enough people or specialists are prepared, and communities don’t understand how to do this work. We are beginning to develop courses and seminars in partnership with universities and research institutes such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), to build capacity and avoid rising transaction costs. We also hope that the community members develop the skills they need to participate in the process.

Q: What training do community members need?

Luna: All of the basics, such as understanding what REDD+ is, learning how to raise funds, and how to conduct forest inventories and monitor their own forests. We also need to train them in landscape management – they must understand their environment, how local issues affect them, how to carry out integrated watershed management, and how to responsibly use that landscape, including agriculture, forest products and services. In addition, we will address gender issues so that everyone has access to this information.

Q: Mexico already has a renowned forest management system in the hands of communities and ejidos. Will this be an advantage when the time comes to implement REDD+ activities?

Luna: It is a huge advantage that the Mexican model of community forest management is already very advanced – it is perhaps the most developed in Latin America. Moreover, because the government has supported forest certification, many ejidos are already familiar with these concepts. The challenge is the high rate of deforestation outside of the ejidos; deforestation rates remain higher than the replacement rates. To manage these other factors, we are advocating for an integrated landscape vision.

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Q: Have priority regions been defined for the development of this work?

Luna: With the government, we’ve identified target areas to launch field projects. We will be working in the states of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, Mexico, Michoacán, and Chiapas, and in the Ayuquila region of Jalisco.

Q: How did you identify these target areas?

Luna: They are places where the government is already working.  They are also a representative sample of the types of forests, vegetation, problems, and pressures that exist in the country. Other criteria are that an Alliance member has an established presence in each of the areas, has established relationships with the community, and has previously executed successful projects in the area.

Q: How will the Alliance gain the support of and work with the private sector?

Luna: We have to engage them using information we’ve collected on major issues they face related to REDD+. We also have to demonstrate that their participation is not just about corporate social responsibility –  many companies depend on the forest, so sustainable forest management complemented with land management that includes the REDD+ vision will assure a continued supply of forest products over the long-term.

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Q: In your opinion, what are Mexico’s advantages and challenges in successfully implementing REDD+?

Luna: Among its advantages, Mexico’s land tenure system stands out as a nearly resolved issue, which is very important for the REDD+ mechanism. The recent creation of the Climate Change Act is certainly central to the legal framework. Also, it is very helpful that Mexico is quite advanced in community forest management.

As for the challenges, Mexico is a very large and diverse country, and implementing a national mechanism involves facing its vastness, its diversity of forests and the various causes of deforestation, and a powerful and diverse civil society. Each state has its own systems, advantages, disadvantages, and pressures. Another difficulty is that in Mexico, there are many subsidies for agriculture, which may be positive, but they can also encourage more forest deforestation than conservation.

Q: What is the Alliance currently working on?

Luna: In terms of policy, we are providing technical advice at the national and state levels and have helped define critical issues for the REDD+ national strategy. We will also analyze the existing legal and political framework to know what we need to change and what we need to create. We’re also looking at existing methodologies to be able to support the government so that it can ensure equitable participation from all communities.

In the area of finance, we are carrying out national and international studies to learn about, among other things, the funds that are currently available for climate change, adaptation and mitigation, and how to access these funds and adapt them to the realities in Mexico.

With regards to MRV, we are working with the government to unify different national projects, compiling all of the studies on Mexico’s carbon stocks, and creating the baseline and a map of biomass to learn more about the country’s potential for carbon sequestration. In addition, we are creating a platform for sharing data, a key issue for making progress.

In terms of communications, we’ve held workshops in target areas to explain what REDD+ is and to address gender issues. We’re also creating a communication strategy and are studying public perceptions in three states.  We’ve also issued a call for proposals for field projects in the target areas.

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Q: What are the biggest challenges you see in the medium-term?

Luna: We really hope that the government will find value in the process that we are advocating for and that it has confidence in what we have done so far. We also want to help the government move forward with the development of the national system for MRV and need to develop successful proposals to improve the necessary legal and policy frameworks. We also need to implement field projects and learn lessons that can be applied to financial, political, legal, and MRV activities – these lessons learned are key to developing a good framework. Another challenge will be providing support to the diverse group of people with many different working styles and gaining the active participation of civil society, government, and the private sector.

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