Climate change adaptation and mitigation: What is MCC’s role?

By Amy Martens, research associate in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department. This piece was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections: MCC theory and practice quarterly.

cropped-new-intersections-header (2)Climate change has already wrought significant adverse impacts on people and the environment, including increasing the risk of climate-related disasters. Communities, governments and non-governmental organizations employ adaptation and mitigation strategies to respond to climate change risks, seeking to limit future negative impacts and to enable communities to cope with adverse effects. What is the responsibility of relief, development and peacebuilding agencies like MCC that work in climate change-affected communities to respond to climate change through adaptation and mitigation?

The intersecting concepts of disaster risk, hazards and vulnerability are key in understanding the broader approaches of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Hazards in this case refer to natural adverse events such as droughts, extreme temperatures, landslides or hurricanes. Vulnerability is a term used to describe the characteristics or circumstances of a community that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard, including exposure to the hazard and ability to cope or adapt to its effects. Vulnerability is influenced by a variety of factors, including gender, age, inequalities in the distribution of resources, access to technology and information, employment patterns and governance structures. Disaster risk is based on the occurrence of hazards and vulnerability to those hazards. Not only is climate change increasing the frequency and severity of many natural hazards, but climate change impacts are increasing vulnerability by diminishing the capacity of communities to cope with these adverse events because of greater unpredictability of climatic events, increased displacement, land degradation and other impacts.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are two complementary strategies to reduce and manage the risk associated with climate change. Mitigation involves reducing human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit future climate change. Mitigation strategies include switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, improving energy and transportation efficiency and increasing carbon “sinks” through reforestation. Adaptation is the process of adjusting to actual or expected climate change and its effects. Within communities, adaptation means avoiding or diminishing harm from climate impacts or exploiting beneficial opportunities associated with climate change. Adaptation includes a variety of activities to reduce vulnerability, including income and livelihood diversification, soil and water conservation, natural resource management and the provision of social safety nets. In addition, disaster risk reduction is a key strategy for reducing risk through efforts to analyze and manage the factors causing disaster situations, including reducing the exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property and improving preparedness for disaster events.

RS55209_IMG_6487-scr

MCC is primarily involved in climate change adaptation activities by supporting communities currently affected by climate change. Adaptation activities aim to reduce disaster risk by addressing different aspects of vulnerability within communities and building resilience to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of climate-related hazards. MCC’s adaptation work includes training for farmers in conservation agriculture, construction of shelter resistant to hazards and providing improved access to safe water.

MCC is also involved in mitigation work, including advocating for government policies that address climate change, encouraging supporters to live simply, expanding efforts to implement sustainability initiatives within MCC operations in Canada and the U.S. and partnering with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College in the founding of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions to advance thinking and action within faith communities on mitigation. Internationally, some of MCC’s programming includes mitigation efforts such as reforestation and education on climate change and environmental sustainability.

Climate change is undermining the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the development sector as they work towards poverty reduction, food security, improved access to clean water and other development goals. Development NGOs are recognizing the importance of adaptation strategies in programming as they experience the impact of climate change on vulnerability and disaster risk. While adaptation is key in reducing risk associated with climate change impacts, it does not address the root cause of climate change. Both mitigation and adaptation are essential to a comprehensive climate risk reduction strategy.

climate change photo

Considering the importance of limiting future climate change impacts to support sustainable development, what role should NGOs play in mitigation efforts? As a ministry of churches in Canada and the United States, MCC represents congregations in countries that contribute significantly to climate change and is itself a contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. To what extent is MCC responsible for mitigation, both with regards to its internal operations and its constituents located in Canada and the U.S.?

While MCC’s responsibility for climate change adaptation is inherent within its priorities of disaster relief and sustainable community development, MCC continues to explore its role in mitigation and opportunities for greater engagement on climate change matters. Even as MCC undertakes a number of initiatives to green its operations, MCC must discern how to balance an emphasis on internal mitigation efforts with a desire to implement program effectively and allocate resources efficiently. MCC asks itself how it can best partner with other like-minded organizations to engage and mobilize congregations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. As recent conversations convened by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions suggest, MCC has the opportunity to join other organizations to advocate on policies that address climate change, to mobilize its supporters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to use its international adaptation work as a platform to propel climate action by connecting North American supporters with climate change-affected communities.

MCC’s work is increasingly connected to the impact of climate change on hazards and vulnerability within communities around the world. To be faithful in its mission of relief, development and peacebuilding in the name of Christ, MCC must carefully consider how best to respond to climate change risks, while also assessing its role in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

What DFATD can learn from CIDA

This week’s blog is written by Dan Leonard, Operating Principles Coordinator for MCC.  Originally from Philadelphia, Dan now lives in Winnipeg where he has learned to love the winter. In February, he nevertheless looks forward to the start of Major League Baseball spring training.

In November, the government released the Global Markets Action Plan, a government strategic plan for promoting international trade opportunities for the Canadian private sector. One of the standout lines in the document is this: “under the plan, all diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector in order to achieve the stated objectives within key foreign markets.”

Goat project Jordan

A goat project in Jordan provides income and food for poor families. Khulood, 11, holds one of the offspring of the goat that her father received. MCC partners with the Wadi Araba Benevolent Society to provide goats for families.

The government’s focus on “economic diplomacy” is particularly interesting to read in light of the decision last year to amalgamate Canada’s foreign affairs, trade and development agendas into one new department—the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).

The action plan deals little with the development agenda specifically, other than to “leverage development programming to advance Canada’s trade interests.” This leads some to question whether global poverty reduction as an end in itself is still a goal for Canada. So what impact, if any, will prioritizing the international trade agenda have on Canada’s international development agenda? This question been discussed previously on this blog; MCC Canada’s ongoing concerns on policy coherence recently prompted letters to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and International Development.

Some context for the Global Markets Action Plan is helpful. The 2012 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer review of Canadian foreign aid noted that Canada has a “strong reputation for its contributions to international development, multilateral organizations and the promotion of human rights.” Central to the effectiveness of Canadian development work has been the insistence that communities should be active participants in defining their own development. One of the key aspects of Canada’s commitment to the Aid Effectiveness Agenda is that “development must be locally-led in order to produce and sustain meaningful results.” More so, Canada has been at the forefront among donor countries pushing NGOs to integrate a gender lens into programming, regularly outspending other DAC members in resources allocated to gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Mahmoud Hassan sorts tomatoes he picked in the field where he works in Wadi Araba. The crops were grown with water from an MCC-supported water catchment project.

Mahmoud Hassan sorts tomatoes he picked in the field where he works in Wadi Araba, Jordan. The crops were grown with water from an MCC-supported water catchment project.

My intention is not to create an idyllic and selective narrative of CIDA’s past. But recognizing the role and reputation of Canada in international development in years past is useful for reflecting on how the intentions and values guiding Canadian development work overseas might change in the future, as Canada aligns a development agenda with a trade agenda.

For example, how will marshalling all Canadian diplomats “on behalf of the private sector” coincide with a desire for “locally-led” development? Will diplomats reviewing CIDA proposals analyze them for community participation, or for how well they align with Canadian economic interests, or perhaps both? Can gender equality help define trade interests? What might that even look like? Or for instance, will plans for a mining project be required to adopt a gender lens and demonstrate that the environment is not unnecessarily degraded? Or, in that same example, if a community does not want the mine, will the project be halted or adjusted even if it limits Canada’s economic opportunities?

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Goldcorp, a global leader in gold mining.

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Vancouver-based gold mining giant, Goldcorp.

Truthfully, we do not know fully what this amalgamation of agendas will mean in practice. But some clues are emerging in the Global Markets Action Plan. Even in the years leading up to the amalgamation, CIDA began funding partnerships between NGOs and mining companies, raising questions as to whether development is acting as a subsidy to, or public relations activity for, mining companies.

On the other hand, in the “development” section of the DFATD website, key priorities of gender equality and environmental sustainability are still mentioned. Projects implemented by NGOs are also still required to integrate a gender and environment lens. So perhaps there is potential for these principles to more forcefully speak into how we conduct trade–though there is no indication in the Global Markets Action Plan that this will be the case.

The win-win of Canadian growth and international development is admittedly tempting. The questions I raise here are not to dispute the merits of aid and trade, or to reject the idea that private sector and NGOs should work together. The point here is that Canada’s private sector interests overseas should not compromise the tremendous learning gained over years of  Canadian development work–namely, that essential ingredients to sustainable development are local ownership, gender equity, and environmental sustainability. This is true whether you are an NGO or part of the private sector. Otherwise the win-win of aid and trade will be more of a dream than a reality.