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LEDS GP Fellowship 2016: Interview with Ivy Wong Abdullah

Ivy Wong Abdullah leads the environment pillar at Yayasan Hasanah. She develops conservation priorities and strategies, formulates partnerships, and enhances collaboration with partners to protect Malaysia’s natural capital and build environmental consciousness.  She has been selected as the 2016 LEDS GP Fellow representing the Asia LEDS Partnership. Ivy talks to LEDS GP’s Charlie Zajicek about her background and interests, and the objectives of her Fellowship.

How long have you been working with low emission development strategies (LEDS)?

I first started working with LEDS when I was with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), where we were looking at the ability of forests to capture carbon and from there, we worked on how to address climate change beyond forests, both through government policy and through the private sector – that was about seven years ago. After working in the sustainable forestry management, I moved onto the government where I was looking at the industry side, so that’s also where I was introduced to the Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership (LEDS GP). The key issue in low emissions development planning at an economy-wide level has always been: how do you address climate change within the sectors; how do you get them to grow greener in terms of lower emissions?

What are the objectives of your fellowship?

The objective of my fellowship is to learn about the tools to interpret the science, economics, and politics of the climate energy nexus. I will do this by attending Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education Program. This will help me to engage and talk the language of economics when it comes to climate change and emissions and growth with private sector and policymakers. The most influential force in making a change towards low carbon development is the private sector and they need to be convinced and make that transition towards a greener growth trajectory. The tools to understand the climate and energy interaction and especially its impact are necessary to talk to these two groups of stakeholders clearly. Professionals from other countries such as Chile, Turkey, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Mexico will also be attending and it will be great to learn of their perspectives as well on these issues.

How did the idea of your fellowship come about?

I’ve always wanted to look at how to operationalize the recent Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) report submissions by governments late last year. For Malaysia itself there is a commitment of 45% emission reduction. How do you put that into practice when, policy wise and in terms of integration, the commitment is not really there?  Well, for the five sectors that we are monitoring in Malaysia, energy remains the one with the highest emissions, and coupled with the effects this has on climate change, it became apparent that we needed to address the gaps in the system. This has to go back then to our policies and our regulations in order to make better improvements. We then started thinking about how to get better learning, whereby you would have a basis and the credentials with which to talk to the regulators and policy makers and show you know what you are talking about. That’s when I started researching the sort of training that was available, and that’s when I found this Harvard training course on energy.

What learning will you bring to your host institution?

For now, I am expecting that I could learn from the experiences of other countries and sectors on this matter of climate and energy, understand the issue of climate change and the science, economics and politics behind it, and cross sector collaboration potentials to walk this journey especially with the private sector and government.

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Ivy in discussion at the Marketplace at the 2015 LEDS GP Annual Event.

What do you hope the impact will be for your fellowship/how will you implement what you learn in your country?

What I hope to take away from the training will be examples or programs that have been implemented in other countries that can be replicated in Malaysia. The Hasanah Foundation has the mandate to do advocacy work with governments and private sector, supporting civil society as the agents of change to work with private sector and governments. A possible area of work will be on working with local governments at the subnational level to design and implement energy saving programs including water, waste, and electricity.

What are the opportunities/challenges for LEDS in Malaysia?

There are both opportunities and challenges for LEDS implementation in my country. The opportunities for LEDS are that the country is growing and with that, interventions are needed to correct growth trajectory toward fossil fuel dependence and its high emissions. For example, the transportation sector is a big contributor. Public transportation via rail is now being realized here i.e. Light Rail Transit, Mass Rapid Transit, intercity commuter trains and the upcoming high-speed railway from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. This can significantly help to reduce the number of cars on the road not only in the city but also intercity. Another opportunity is housing development: homeowners have the ability to be Independent Power Producers (IPP) by installing renewables on their roofs, and this can be a source of energy that is supplied to the grid. The key question is how do we scale IPP up to housing developers? Several key areas of growth for the country such as Iskandar Malaysia, the Southern Development Corridor on the Malaysian peninsula, and the Northern Corridor, Sabah and Sarawak, are moving towards a greener growth agenda. Measuring and monitoring such programs is important.

Some challenges for LEDS are the incompatible laws and regulation that go against efforts to go green, and policymakers who are not progressive enough to see the benefits of low emission growth and a population at large who lack awareness on consumption patterns. There is a disjuncture between what people understand of rubbish in rivers and what flows out of a tap. The energy balance issue is a big one for the country, what with the price of coal now being attractive to buy and power plants in the pipeline to be built; we need to examine the country’s allowable budget of carbon emissions. Making these growth plans; projecting the growth and the demand for energy, and having the ability to go beyond traditional sources of fuel are all aspects that Malaysia seriously needs to consider.


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