Leadership for Responsive Climate Actions in Agriculture, Forestry and Food systems: Insights from the ASEAN Climate Leadership Programme

Submitted by Cynthia Nitsch | published 2nd Nov 2021 | last updated 22nd Mar 2022
Aerial view of desk, five individuals sitting around with notebooks

Jippy Rinaldi, Jakarta

Introduction

This brief discusses the role of systemic leadership in addressing climate change-related land use challenges in Southeast Asia. In particular, it will reflect on the role of leadership in promoting transformational change towards a low-carbon, resilient and food secure economy and society, both globally and regionally. It will also discuss how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can embed this approach in its policy framework.

It builds upon insights from the ASEAN Climate Leadership Programme (ACLP), which was designed as a contribution to the work of the ASEAN Climate Resilience Network (ASEAN-CRN). The brief outlines the ACLP’s underlying theory, discusses experiences of the programme and provides inspiration as to how systemic leadership for climate-smart land use can be further promoted in the context of ASEAN.

*The key messages from the brief are provided below. Download the full brief from the right-hand column.

Leadership in climate-smart land use

Challenges across the food, agriculture, and forestry sectors are complex and interrelated and require the engagement of a range of stakeholders. Solutions to address the impacts of climate change on land use sectors must be holistic and innovative, use a systems view of the problem, and work to engage broad networks and relevant stakeholders.

A systems approach focuses on the complexities of a challenge as a whole, rather than isolating pieces of it. To implement a system approach, leaders need to help others understand and bring stakeholders together. Leadership needs to reflect and promote the concept of the bigger picture. Leaders are tasked to come up with a vision that can guide opportunities for others and emphasise the process of co-creating sustainable solutions. Leadership should not only understand the shared challenges, but also the potential tensions, conflicts, and uncertainties and ultimately work to address challenges in an inclusive, collaborative and reflective way. Systemic leadership builds on the relational qualities of leadership, such as collaboration, stewardship, trust, and care, as well as influential qualities, such as driving things in a specific direction and ensuring quality and performance. 

Theory U (see figure 1) is an example of a change management model that guides systemic change in order to ‘lead from the future as it emerges’, and focuses on how individuals, groups, and organisations can ‘sense and actualise their highest future potential’. 

In order to capitalise on ongoing climate change efforts locally, nationally, and regionally in Southeast Asia, systemic leadership is required. This must address complex problems by unlocking cultural and behavioural changes. 

ASEAN context and need for systemic leadership

ASEAN context 

Countries in Southeast Asia (SEA) are highly dependent on natural resources. Agriculture and forestry are significant contributors to the region’s economy but are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Food systems emit significant greenhouse gases (GHG) from crops, livestock, and land use, with Asia making up the greatest share of these emissions globally. While SEA has grown dependent on agriculture to support livelihoods, several countries in the region have ranked in the top ten countries most affected by weather-related events (Germanwatch’s long-term climate risk index). As a result of the regions reliance on agriculture and its vulnerability to weather-related events, it is imperative for nations in SEA to lower greenhouse gas emissions, while also building the resilience of the economies to climate change impacts. 

Need for systemic leadership

ASEAN and its Member States recognise the importance of food security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, as vital components for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the regional level, ASEAN has integrated mitigation and adaptation strategies into several plans and frameworks. At the national level, all ASEAN member states (AMS) are parties to the Paris Agreement and some have started developing their own national adaptation plans (NAPs). A number of ASEAN working groups have emerged, both informal and formal. This allows for the flow of information and knowledge to be spread throughout the region. This also creates an opportunity for the region to present a united statement and position on the global stage and advocate for effective actions to be taken. To maintain such momentum, strong multi-country, multi-actor, and cross-sectoral leadership is required in order to drive action. 

Systemic leadership calls for individuals to utilise a collective approach that integrates different realities from many perspectives, and encourages others to do the same. ASEAN has a complex institutional architecture that typically addresses different policy areas in isolation. Unfortunately, environmental degradation, climate change, or green recovery from a global pandemic, require a more integrated systemic approach. Leadership must look at creating a more synergistic, cross-sectoral plan for tackling these concerns. Initiatives in ASEAN have started promoting cross-sectoral approaches, such as the ASEAN Multi-Sectoral Framework on Climate Change: Agriculture and Forestry towards Food Security (AFCC) and the ASEAN Climate Resilience Network which offers a platform for representatives to share expertise from various national ministriesSuch collaborative engagement is at the core of the ‘ASEAN way’, which relies on cooperation and consensus-driven policymaking. However, mechanisms for implementation are often unclear. 

The ASEAN Climate Leadership Programme

To promote systemic leadership for climate action in ASEAN, the Climate-Smart Land Use in ASEAN (CSLU) project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and implemented by GIZ in cooperation with SEARCA, established the ASEAN Climate Leadership Programme (ACLP). ACLP was designed to consider the kinds of leadership competencies that are needed in order to advance climate-smart land use in the region. The ACLP design was inspired by the Theory U. Participants in the programme were introduced to the theory and encouraged to engage in generative listening and build on their ‘capacity to connect to the highest future possibility that can emerge’ 

The ACLP promotes collaborative action at the individual, national, and regional levels. For the individual level, participants are empowered to promote climate-smart land use in their professional context, by becoming more aware of different perspectives and relevant sources of information and gaining a better understanding of how to facilitate cooperation, knowledge sharing, and policymaking. At the national level, leaders are encouraged to advocate for cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches within domestic policy processes. At the regional level, leaders are encouraged to facilitate the design of informed, more targeted, inclusive, and application-oriented regional policies. By building capacities at all levels, the ACLP and the systemic approaches promote process-level change, by connecting different spheres within policymaking. 

In its first run in 2020, twenty-seven participants from nine of the ten ASEAN Member States were chosen based on their fields of expertise, their direct or indirect involvement with national and regional policy processes, and their willingness to actively participate in the full programme with the support of their organisations and direct supervisors. The programme took place over three months and included four modules. Throughout their leadership journey, participants were provided with technical inputs, leadership theory, and in-depth insights from fellow policymakers, experts and local communities. After receiving positive feedback from the first group of participants, CSLU and SEARCA held a second run of the programme in 2021. 

Outcomes and Impacts

ACLP offers an important example of how cross-sectoral capacity building initiatives can help to build leadership capabilities across the region, with a focus on the ability to see the larger system, foster reflection and discussion, and co-create the future. The ACLP created a space for dialogues with and among different ASEAN sectoral bodies, the ASEAN Secretariat, and representatives from ASEAN Member States, in order to improve understanding of the region’s complex problems.

To gain a better understanding of the impacts this programme has had, two interviews with ACLP alumni can be found here: