Churches working against climate change: four case studies

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Since its inception a decade ago, Mennonite Creation Care Network has called congregations in Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) and Mennonite Church Canada to respond to environmental crises with reflection, repentance and action. While the Network has not focused its efforts specifically on climate change, some of its congregations have embraced the issue. Over the past ten years, Mennonite congregations have installed solar panels, challenged their members to reduce personal carbon consumption, made local ecosystems more resilient and engaged in political action. This article investigates the factors that motivate some congregations to act while many in Canada and the U.S. still ignore the carbon counts that tick steadily upward. I interviewed representatives (including pastors, lay leaders and other congregational members) from four congregations actively responding to climate change to find out what common actions they undertook and what motivated and sustained those initiatives.

All of the churches in this study were majority white and college-educated, located in towns or cities with a university. Apart from those similarities, their contexts were quite different. Tucson’s Shalom Mennonite Fellowship bakes in the Sonoran Desert, while at First Mennonite Church in Edmonton, Alberta, people joke that global warming is a good thing. Huntington Mennonite Church is located in Newport News, Virginia—one of the communities in the U.S. most vulnerable to sea level rise. Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, nestles in the Shenandoah Valley and draws strength from ideas and activities at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).

The Park View and Huntington congregations have focused their environmental efforts specifically on climate change. Both churches aim to become completely independent of fossil fuels in the future and are approaching the issue systematically. At First Mennonite and Shalom, efforts have included climate change discussions, but have been focused more broadly. Most notable climate-related activities included an eco-footprint group at First Mennonite and water conservation measures at Shalom in response to increasing drought.

Each of the congregations interviewed share three characteristics that supported climate change action. First, each church has benefited from the leadership of a pastor with a long-term interest in creation care paired with one or more lay leaders with relevant professional expertise. At First Mennonite, the pairing involved a pastor with extensive experience in camp settings and an environmental sociologist. At Huntington, a NASA scientist whose job includes climate modeling teamed up with a pastor who “understood climate change from a theological perspective.” At Harrisonburg, a pastor who shared that “Creation care has been an interest of mine as long as I can remember” worked with a business professor who researches sustainability. Shalom’s pastor brought ten years of experience as the director of Christian Peacemaker Teams to her role. “It was work that CPT does in partnering with First Nations that made me understand how care of the earth and care of human rights are really the same thing,” she reported. Lay leaders at this church include a specialist in watershed management and several scientists who contributed to the congregation’s level of comfort with climate change science. While respondents were quick to state that their accomplishments were congregation-wide efforts, these teams were blessed with skilled pastoral and lay leadership.

Second, each of the congregations displayed an ability to integrate deeply held faith concepts with contemporary issues. A lay leader at First Mennonite told about the significance of God as Creator to his own conversion to Christianity and his ongoing work with climate change. A Shalom congregation member applied the language of stewardship to the congregation’s stormwater project, reflecting, “I believe God calls us to use science as a tool, to use religion as a tool and to put them together in some way that reflects reality, not what’s convenient for me.” Park View’s climate change reparations policy, meanwhile, reflects the congregation’s commitment to mirror God’s love and care for creation and God’s love and care for the vulnerable and poor of the world.” The Huntington survey respondent highlighted Jesus’ relationship with creation as a model for the church’s action today. Respondents expressed these convictions in a faith language accessible to other churches.

Third, respondents from each of the congregations recognized climate change as a threat to themselves or to people to whom they felt a connection. For Huntington residents living near the coast, rising sea levels are local issues. Shalom members described the drought they lived with and the ways climate change played into the plight of immigrants supported by the congregation. International students from EMU and the overseas experiences of Park View members connected the church to areas vulnerable to climate change. For First Mennonite, the issue was prominent in a different way. One respondent explained:

In Alberta, there’s lots of talk about the oil and gas basis for the economy. That raises the question of what we’re going to do about our carbon emissions. But people both inside and outside of our church rely on resource extraction. It frames the conversation and impacts how we look at things. We realize people’s livelihoods are part of this.

One way or another, climate change touched each of these congregations directly, propelling them towards climate action.

Findings from this study offer encouragement for people of faith hoping the church will put its moral weight behind climate change efforts. First, many people are ready to confront climate change. A survey created by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, a program recently launched at EMU in collaboration with MCC and Goshen College, gauged responses to climate change within the Mennonite community. Almost two-thirds of MC USA respondents said they were alarmed by or concerned about climate change. This finding suggests that the majority of MC USA members are ready to engage climate change issues if provided with good leadership.

Second, effective communication goes a long way in enhancing support for climate change action. None of the four congregations reported conflict related to their climate change initiatives, possibly because their leaders were good communicators. Leaders used a variety of ways to communicate about initiatives and keep them on the front burner. These included announcements, children’s time, sermons and projects requiring hands-on labor from many volunteers. Furthermore, despite advanced levels of education, leaders explained the theological rationales for their climate change work in accessible language.

Finally, the study underscores the importance of leadership development. Both future pastors and potential environmental professionals now have opportunities to learn in faith-based settings where creation care is a priority. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) expresses its desire to work at climate change through membership in the Seminary Stewardship Alliance, through curricular initiatives and by drawing energy from a large solar installation. Undergraduate opportunities abound, such as the three sustainability majors that Goshen College launched this year: these courses of study have the potential to develop more creation care leaders like the ones represented in this study.

For the Mennonite Creation Care Network, the most noteworthy finding from this congregational study is the conclusion that efforts to mobilize congregations to climate change action should focus more deliberately on pastors and their role as moral leaders and eco-theologians, as well as on environmental professionals within congregations. Secondly, the above research confirms the Network’s big-tent approach that encourages congregations to work at creation care in ways relevant to their own contexts. If people are motivated by threats they take personally, the most effective question for a congregation to ask may not be, “How can we fight climate change?” but rather, “What environmental concerns threaten us?” A zealous attack on air pollution will bring with it climate change benefits even if the motivator was childhood asthma, not a more abstract desire for carbon reduction. Healthy farms can sequester carbon no matter if the farmer fears climate change or soil erosion. By focusing on engaging pastors in creation care and encouraging congregations to find personal motivation for working on environmental issues, Mennonite Creation Care Network and other faith-based organizations can help to develop the characteristics within church congregations that lead to climate change action.

Jennifer Halteman Schrock is leader of Mennonite Creation Care Network and communications manager at Goshen College’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center.

Learn more

Mennonite Creation Care Network. Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/

Park View Mennonite Church. “Creation Care Council.” Available at http://www.pvmchurch.org/about-the-creation-care-council.html.

Park View Mennonite Church. “Approach to Climate Emissions.” (September 2015). Available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/15rfBnElI3u2WWIavHOo_V-sVN8QBR3adAAnvprnbVxs/edit.

Mennonite Creation Care Network. “Virginia Church Pays Climate Change Reparations” (April 2017). Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/virginia-church-pays-climate-change-reparations/.

Mennonite Creation Care Network. “Net Zero Energy Grants” (n.d.) Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/green-energy-grants/.

Stella, Rachel. “Virginians Put a Charge into Creation Care.” Mennonite World Review (August 2016). Available at http://mennoworld.org/2016/08/29/news/virginians-put-a-charge-into-creation-care/.

 Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. “Creation Care Efforts at AMBS.” Available at http://www.ambs.edu/about/creation-care.

Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions. Available at https://www.sustainableclimatesolutions.org/.

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “Global Warming’s Six Americas.” (2008). Available at
http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/about/projects/global-warmings-six-americas/.

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The Green Climate Fund

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The greatest suffering from climate change impacts is being felt by those who already feel the most need—and who are the least equipped to respond effectively. These vulnerable communities are also the least responsible for causing climate change. Wealthy nations, including the United States, bear the greatest responsibility for climate change and therefore have a moral obligation to repair the damage and help communities adapt to new realities. In recognition of this moral obligation, MCC and other faith-based organizations have advocated strongly for increased U.S. government funding for international programs to help low-income communities adapt to the impact of climate change.

Unfortunately, the current U.S. administration has not only promised to halt funding for international adaptation efforts, but recently announced it would pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, an international agreement on climate change mitigation and adaptation formulated within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and signed by all but two of the world’s countries.

Working with faith-based partners in Washington, D.C., MCC staff advocate directly to U.S. government officials and also work to educate constituents on the need for adaptation assistance, encouraging them to advocate to their members of Congress. In recent years, much of this advocacy has focused on the Green Climate Fund (GCF). In 2014, the U.S. pledged $3 billion to the GCF, but, in every year since, it has been an uphill struggle to secure congressional approval for these funds. Meanwhile, although the faith community has continued to support the GCF, a growing tension has emerged within faith-based climate change advocacy efforts between advocating for continued funding and at the same time criticizing the fund’s shortcomings.

The Green Climate Fund was created in 2010 by the UNFCCC. Currently one of several existing mechanisms for multilateral financing for climate-related projects, the GCF is expected to become the main mechanism for such financing in future years. The GCF is not an agency of the United Nations, but is a legally independent institution accountable to the UNFCCC. The fund is intended to be part of a paradigm-shifting, transformative response to climate change, implementing a country-driven, gender-sensitive approach to mitigation and adaptation.

The GCF board consists of 24 members with equal representation from “developed and developing countries.” Two civil society and two private sector representatives serve as non-voting observers to board meetings. The GCF funds projects for mitigation and adaptation efforts as well as for technology transfer and capacity building. Projects are funded through grants and concessional loans from the GCF, often in combination with local public or private sector funding. The World Bank is the interim trustee for the GCF until a permanent trustee is selected through an open, competitive process.

An initial fundraising campaign collected pledges for the GCF from 37 countries totaling $10.2 billion. Funds allocated for the GCF are intended to be new financing rather than the repurposing of funds from existing development assistance programs. By 2015, the GCF had received signed contributions for more than 50 percent of pledges, reaching a benchmark to enable the fund to begin approving projects.

GCF projects focus on a variety of mitigation and adaptation efforts, including efforts to develop renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, strengthen resilience to climate change impacts and protect sustainable livelihoods. All developing country members of the UNFCCC are eligible to receive GCF funds. Funding comes through accredited entities which can include national or regional development banks, government ministries, nongovernmental organizations and other national or regional organizations that meet accreditation standards.

At the end of 2015, the GCF approved its first eight projects totaling $169 million, including an energy efficiency green bond in Latin America and an early warning system for climate-linked disasters in Malawi. In 2016, the board approved an additional $1.3 billion worth of funding, including a $166 million food security and resilience project in India for solar micro-irrigation in the vulnerable tribal areas of Odisha and a $232 million hydropower project in the Solomon Islands.

In many ways, the stated goals of the GCF align well, at least in theory, with MCC goals in areas such as stakeholder engagement, gender sensitivity, local capacity building and reaching the most vulnerable. In reality, however, GCF board members and advocates have raised concerns about safeguards, consultation and transparency.

In 2015, the GCF came under intense pressure to start funding projects but, at the same time, the board was still in the process of developing policies and procedures. One board member commented: “We are building the plane as we fly the plane.” The continued rush to keep funds flowing means that even board members complain that they do not have adequate information to assess individual projects. Civil society representatives have raised objections about some accredited funding entities (most of which are multilateral and bilateral development agencies), noting links to the fossil fuel industry, financial mismanagement and human rights abuses.

The GCF is currently using the International Finance Corporation’s social and environmental safeguards until it develops its own. These standards incorporate some good elements, but lack a strong standard for local consultation and consent and contain insufficient protections for the rights of indigenous peoples as well as for national habitats and biodiversity. In 2015, a wetlands restoration project in Peru came under criticism due to concerns over whether indigenous communities had been properly consulted. Doubts persist about the adequacy of consultation with local communities and the transparency of the project approval process.

Other concerns have involved the need for more capacity building for local institutions, the process for considering high-risk projects, the benefits of large versus smaller-scale projects, the level and types of co-funding with the private sector, definitions of adaptation and mitigation and the use of grants versus loans.

The GCF continues to work to address concerns. Internal capacity issues plagued the fund early on, but it has since significantly increased staff capacity. This expanded staffing has allowed the fund to make initial improvements in communications and transparency. The GCF is currently developing its own environmental and social safeguards and has committed to the development of an indigenous peoples policy.

The board continues to discuss how to provide more funding for building capacity at the local level. Additionally, national development agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), have begun to reorient some funding to reinforce GCF capacity building efforts.

Going forward, U.S. government participation in funding and shaping the GCF is in doubt, particularly in light of the impending U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Total U.S. contributions to the fund thus far total $1 billion. The current administration, however, has stated it will not fulfill the remaining $2 billion of the U.S. pledge. Until now, advocates for U.S. funding of the GCF have maintained good dialogue with the U.S. representative on the GCF board, but it is unclear whether this access will continue. MCC and its partners will continue to push for positive changes using any avenues available, including dialogue with the non-voting civil society representatives to the board.

Though the GCF very much remains a work in progress, there is space for advocacy to call the Green Climate Fund into being what it was envisioned to be—a much-needed tool for helping vulnerable communities adapt to our changing climate.

Tammy Alexander is senior legislative associate for domestic affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

Learn more

Amerasinghe, Niranjali, Joe Thwaites, Gaia Larsen, and Athena Ballesteros. The Future of the Funds: Exploring the Architecture of Multilateral Climate Finance. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2017. Available at http://www.wri.org//sites/default/files/The_Future_of_the_Funds_0.pdf.

GCF 101: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Access the Green Climate Fund. Available at greenclimate.fund/gcf101. Green Climate Fund: Projects. Available at http://www.greenclimate.fund/projects/browse-projects.

Green Climate Fund: Projects. Available at http://www.greenclimate.fund/projects/browse-projects.

Schalatek, L., Nakhooda, S. and Watson, C. Overseas Development Institute. The Green Climate Fund. In Climate Finance Fundamentals 11 (December 2015). Available at http://www.climatefundsupdate.org/listing/green-climate-fund.

Additional resources on U.S. environmental policy available at https://washingtonmemo.org/environment./

National Congress of American Indians on the impact of climate change on indigenous communities. Available at http://www.ncai.org/policy-issues/land-natural-resources/climate-change.

Building resilience in a drought-prone district of Ethiopia

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Boricha woreda (district) is located in the Sidama zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. One of the most drought-prone districts of Ethiopia, Boricha is almost completely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Boricha has been heavily affected by climate change, experiencing recurrent drought and rainfall variability. Land degradation has caused the formation of gullies that are invading farmlands and creating significant soil erosion, washing away seeds, fertilizer and seedlings from farmlands, reducing production capacity, damaging soil health and productivity and impacting household income. Climate change impacts and land degradation, along with high population growth, small land holdings and illiteracy, are the major causes of food insecurity in the area and have resulted in a low community capacity to adapt to climate change impacts. This article discusses the efforts of Meserete Kristos Church Relief and Development Association (MKC-RDA) to build climate change resilience in Boricha and analyzes key findings that indicate that MKC-RDA’s efforts in Boricha have contributed to soil and water conservation, improved livelihoods and increased food security, in turn reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.

For over a decade up through 2014, MKC-RDA carried out a community- and environmentally-oriented disaster risk reduction and food security program in Boricha with the aims of addressing short- and long-term causes of food insecurity and of building resilience to climate change. The program adopted the strategy of “developmental relief,” in which relief and development interventions are implemented simultaneously to provide vulnerable communities with efficient safety nets during hunger periods together with strategies for long-term food security to help communities meet their food needs in the future and have the capacity to cope with hazards such as drought. This approach emphasized disaster preparedness and building community resilience to future disasters by reducing vulnerability, rather than focusing only on immediate support to disaster victims.

One component of the Boricha program was the provision of predictable food and cash transfers through food for work (FFW) and cash for work (CFW) initiatives designed to contribute to achieving the overall objective of climate change adaptation and resilience. This safety net programming provided cash payments or edible maize and food oil to vulnerable households, fulfilling their food needs during months when the majority of the population was food insecure. These FFW and CCW schemes also ensured that households possessed the means to successfully rebuild and sustain their livelihoods after chronic drought. Participants received food or cash for work that included the rehabilitation of roads and bridges to allow community members to transport their commodities to market and the implementation of soil and water conservation strategies, such as the construction of terraces and water harvesting ponds. Other initiatives included producing seedlings for agroforestry in nurseries and on communal and private land and constructing seed banks to ensure farmers’ easy access to crop varieties adapted to local conditions.

Another focus of the Boricha program was the implementation of climate-smart agriculture (CSA), including conservation agriculture technologies. CSA is defined as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) where possible” (FAO). Project activities under CSA included optimizing the use of land resources, the introduction of anti-erosion measures and water harvesting and saving technologies, the promotion of forage and agroforestry development and training in conservation agriculture techniques such as mulching, minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation and the adoption of appropriate cropping patterns such as intercropping. In addition, the Boricha project established and strengthened farmer’s groups, savings groups, self-help groups and other community organizations to support promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, increase capacity in soil and water conservation, support income generation initiatives and increase literacy.

An independent team evaluated the Boricha program two years after it ended to determine program impacts. The evaluation found that, given the environmental degradation in Boricha, sustainable management of natural resources was critical to the pursuit of food security and economic development within the community. Soil and water conservation activities resulted in the rehabilitation of land and natural resources: more than seven hundred hectares were protected, contributing to improved vegetative cover. Benefits included a greater availability of organic manure through foliage from reforested or maintained plants, improved availability of firewood, minimization of wind erosion and the availability of trees for traditional medicines. Project activities also assisted in soil restoration and prevention of salinization and the loss of arable land, including through the reforestation of previously unusable lands. Terraces, soil bunds, check dams and other flood and erosion control and water harvesting activities improved soil fertility and restored ground and surface water sources. Conservation agriculture techniques, including soil cover, mulch and the addition of compost, also contributed to reduced soil erosion, improved water holding capacity of farmlands and increased soil productivity. Even in years with delayed, sporadic or poor rainfall, farmers practicing conservation agriculture benefited from higher residual moisture levels, which enabled seeds to germinate and sustained crop maturity. As a result of project activities, communities have reduced risk of disaster from flooding, increased agricultural productivity and improved access to water for irrigation and household use, contributing to resilience to climate change impacts.

The Boricha project resulted in poverty reduction and improved food security for the majority of participating households, increasing their ability to cope with and manage the effects of hazards. Seventy-three percent of all participating households stated that they successfully transitioned out of extreme poverty during the program’s duration; only six percent of households participating in the project reported still being in extreme poverty. Reforestation of watershed land and the resulting bio-diversity contributed to the expansion of animal fattening, cattle rearing and beekeeping activities for income generation. Tree plantations, as well as vegetation which emerged because of soil and water conservation activities, created employment and improved incomes through forest harvesting and sales of by-products. Because of the supplementary income obtained through the sale of surplus produce from the project gardens, honey products and fruit harvested from agroforestry, women experienced improved livelihoods and incomes. These women reported greater self-esteem and increased financial independence. Additionally, the overall food security situation of the target community improved over the program period. For example, the frequency of daily food intake of three meals a day increased from 12.9 percent at the start of the project to 77 percent by the end, while those consuming two or fewer meals a day decreased from 87.1 percent to 21 percent. Overall, the evaluation found that the project provided households with opportunities for more successful and diverse livelihoods, contributing to increased incomes and food security. As a result of diverse income sources, increased ability to save money and improved food security, households in Boricha are more resilient, able to adapt to changing condition and to with cope with the effects of hazards.

Results from the MKC-RDA program in Boricha demonstrate that food and cash transfer programming to address seasonal food insecurity, climate-smart agriculture interventions and sustainable natural resource management all play important roles in protecting the assets and income of poor families, mitigating disaster risk and building resilience to climate change impacts in drought-affected communities.

Frew Beriso is conservation agriculture technical specialist with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in Ethiopia. He previously worked for MKC-RDA as the Boricha Program Manager.

Learn more

Pugeni, Vurayayi. “Sub-Dejel Watershed Rehabilitation Project, Ethiopia.” Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development. 2013. Available at http://c4d.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2013-CaseStudy-MCC-Ethiopia.pdf.

Nyasimi, M., Amwata, D., Hove, L., Kinyangi, J., and Wamukoya, G. “Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa.” 2014. Available at https://ccafs.cgiar.org/publications/evidence-impact-climate-smart-agriculture-africa-0#.WO_oNkdda72.

Empowering women for disaster risk reduction in Myanmar

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Rakhine, the second poorest state in Myanmar, is frequently exposed to natural hazards, including cyclones, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis and fires in forested and rural areas. Climate change models predict that Myanmar over the coming years and decades will experience increased temperatures, more frequent and intense drought periods, changing rainfall patterns and an increased risk of flooding, as well as more frequent and intense extreme weather events resulting in storm and flood surges and sea-level rise that will affect almost all communities across the country. Communities in Rakhine are already facing a variety of these impacts. Rakhine is also at risk of complex disasters exacerbated by natural hazards: a combination of food shortages, fragile or failing economic, political, and social institutions and internal conflict that leads to displacement of people. Rakhine suffers from a long-standing political and military conflict between the central government, the Myanmar Army and Buddhist nationalists, on the one hand, and the Arakan Army and the Rohingya Muslim community, on the other. Additionally, the Rakhine/Arakan Army has conflicts with other indigenous groups in Rakhine (the national government recognizes 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar): fighting has repeatedly displaced people from their homes and villages, thereby increasing their vulnerability. A lack of resources and education, coupled with these complex social relationships in a multi-layered, multi-religious and ethnic group state, add to the vulnerability of the people in Rakhine.

Women in Rakhine are disproportionately vulnerable to complex disasters, natural hazards and climate change impacts due to cultural beliefs, traditional practices and socio-economic conditions. Women are more likely than men to experience increased loss of livelihoods and gender-based violence. In some situations, they have experienced greater loss of life during and after a disaster. Women for the World (WFW), a Yangon-based Myanmar non-governmental organization (NGO), partners with the Indigenous Women’s Coalition for Peace (IWCP) in Rakhine to reduce risk and increase resilience. They believe that gender and indigenous identity are critical elements for addressing climate change impacts and disaster risk. The integration of Rakhine indigenous women’s local knowledge and their practices in disaster mitigation, preparation and response efforts are essential for reducing risk and increasing resilience.

WFW and IWCP work with diverse women’s savings groups to increase understanding of the impacts of climate change, assess their local knowledge and increase their capacity to prepare for and respond to disaster events. WFW’s primary belief is that while women are the most vulnerable members of the community, they are also the agents for change. In Rakhine, a lack of employment opportunities has resulted in the migration of men and young women to find work outside of their villages, leaving women, the elderly and children to deal with the aftermath of natural hazards. Women are the caregivers for children, the sick and the elderly; they are often the sole breadwinners, as men, older boys and girls leave to seek job opportunities in urban centers or across borders; they are responsible for securing food; they are informal healthcare providers; they are responsible for the safekeeping of livestock; and they are responsible for finding and maintaining fresh drinking water supplies. Women are more restricted in travel and are more likely to be restricted from owning land, from borrowing or investing money, and from diversifying livelihoods through starting a new business.

Conversely, women are also holders of essential cultural, historical and economic knowledge within their communities, making them vital participants in efforts to decrease disaster risk. Women manage environmental resources to sustain their households and act as informal healthcare providers. They have survival and coping skills to respond to disasters, have local community networks and possess local knowledge of the community, including the location and needs of the most vulnerable (the elderly, children, persons with disabilities) during a crisis, making them critical players in disaster risk reduction (DRR).

WFW and the IWCP gather women to build peace and resilience together through a women’s savings group model. In addition to training on group formation and savings management, group members also receive training about women’s rights, conflict transformation, domestic violence and DRR. They are taught to conduct village mapping to assess the vulnerabilities in their villages, from infrastructure mapping to household and community population mapping. Representatives from each group, representing different ethnicities, meet together to receive in-depth conflict transformation and disaster management trainings which they take back to their groups. Members of the IWCP continue working with the savings groups, supporting them as they learn and plan.

WFW operates from the assumption that women cannot begin adapting to climate change if they do not believe they can. To strengthen self-reliance, WFW employs a participatory learning process. WFW trainers first raise awareness among women’s groups in an atmosphere of openness to women’s stories and experiences in disasters as a method of learning and naming what the women already know. For example, women already know that shelter for women and children is vulnerable to natural hazards and that the safest cyclone resistant shelter does not provide privacy to women and children. They know that rains are increasing and temperatures are rising, leading to greater malaria incidences and the need for more mosquito nets. After WFW staff have introduced the process of village mapping, they step back (to their Yangon office) while the savings groups create village maps that identify geographic strengths and weaknesses, households (including the number of family members in each household) and the most vulnerable persons and where they live (the elderly, young children, persons with disabilities). The women also mark the location of their livestock, schools, fishing boats and other community and household assets.

In WFW trainings, group members learn skills for assessing risks and vulnerability and for identifying sustainable adaptation solutions for their communities. Savings group members report that the support they receive through the group makes them less vulnerable. Through the savings group, women can access loans to start small businesses, diversifying their bases of income. One group trained by WFW is building a safe and hygienic latrine to decrease the risk of disease. Other groups are advocating for improved early warning systems in indigenous languages, especially related to weather forecast news, and for more detailed information regarding the nature of hazards so communities can be better prepared to respond. WFW-trained groups have publicly identified cyclone resistant buildings in every village that can adequately serve as secure shelters. In the event of a natural hazard, the women are prepared to secure livestock in a safe place where they can be maintained until the risk has abated and to store food and water in a secure space. After flooding, women rebuild their homes to be more flood resistant, drawing upon loans through their savings group. Recognizing the need to improve rice growing practices to decrease vulnerability to climate change, groups have strengthened their relationships with the government’s agricultural department to secure technical assistance. One group has already seen increased yields after using a savings group loan to lease a training plot and accessing technical support from the government agricultural department. Empowered by the social and organizational support from savings groups, women have formed DRR management teams in their villages tasked with providing accessible information about potential risks and developing record-keeping practices to help assess potential disaster situations and track changes to facilitate ongoing adaptability.

The role of vulnerable people in risk reduction measures should not be underestimated. When women become involved in addressing their vulnerabilities, they are encouraged and empowered to continue making improvements in their communities. If women’s roles and local knowledge are not included in disaster planning and response, disaster risk reduction interventions will be ineffective in reducing risk. Women are vital and powerful agents of change: it is imperative that they are participants in disaster planning, preparation and response. When WFW, the IWCP and diverse women’s savings groups in Rakhine join together to assess local knowledge and integrate this knowledge into DRR planning and action, they reduce the risks posed by natural and complex disasters and empower women to create a more peaceful, resilient and adaptive society.

Sandra Reisinger is MCC representative for Myanmar, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Van Lizar is director of Women for the World (WFW), an MCC partner organization in Myanmar.

Learn more

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Myanmar Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (MCCSAP) 2016–2030. (July 2016). Available at http://myanmarccalliance.org/mcca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MCCA-Strategy_ActionPlan_11July2016V1.pdf.

Enarson, E. Working with Women at Risk: Practical Guidelines for Assessing Local Disaster Risk. (April 2002). Available at http://reliefweb.int/report/world/working-women-risk-practical-guidelines-assessing-local-disaster-risk.

Mitchel, T., Tanner, T., and Lussier, K. We Know What We Need: South Asian Women Speak Out on Climate Change Adaptation. Action Aid. (November 2007). Available at http://www.actionaid.org/publications/we-know-what-we-need-south-asian-women-speak-out-climate-change-adaptation.

UNISDR. Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive: Policy and Practical Guidelines. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations, 2009. Available at http://www.unisdr.org/files/9922_MakingDisasterRiskReductionGenderSe.pdf.

UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction: High Level Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Dialogue. (March 2015). Available at http://www.wcdrr.org/uploads/Mobilizing-Women%E2%80%99s-Leadership-in-Disaster-Risk-Reduction.pdf.

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

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

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.

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.

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.

Amy Martens is research associate in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department.

Learn more

Fay, Marianne, et al. Decarbonizing Development: Three Steps to a Zero-Carbon Future. Climate Change and Development Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2015. Available for download at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/21842.

Martens, Amy. MCC and Climate Change: Responding to Climate Change Risks. MCC, 2016. Available at https://mccintersections.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/mcc-and-climate-change-working-paper-june-20171.pdf.

Hallegatte, Stephane, et al. Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty. Climate Change and Development Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2016. Available at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/22787/9781464806735.pdf.

Hallegatte, Stephane, et al. Unbreakable: Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters. Climate Change and Development Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2017. Available for download at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/25335.

Lavell, A., Oppenheimer, M., Diop, C., Hess, J., Lempert, R., Li, J., Muir-Wood, R., and Myeong, S. “Climate Change: New Dimensions in Disaster Risk, Exposure, Vulnerability and Resilience.” In Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2012. Available at http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/report/report-graphics/ch1-figures/.

UNISDR. Terminology. 2009. Available online at https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/terminology.

 

Responding to climate change (Summer 2017)

Featured

[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Over the past three decades, scientists have observed unprecedented warming of the earth’s surface as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts of climate change, including changes in weather patterns, more frequent or severe natural hazards and altered water systems, are devastating vulnerable communities in which MCC works by exacerbating food insecurity and population displacement and increasing risk of disaster. Climate change is challenging MCC’s efforts to build healthy communities, respond to disasters, provide clean water, create sustainable livelihoods and promote peace.

The articles in this issue of Intersections span the globe, representing voices from Myanmar, Ethiopia, Latin America and North America. Contributors grapple with how to respond to climate change within their contexts while exploring innovative strategies that both benefit the environment and enable vulnerable communities to adapt. Sandra Reisinger and Van Lizar discuss how an MCC partner in Myanmar is addressing this challenge by empowering women to serve as disaster managers. Frew Beriso discusses how climate-smart agriculture practices improved food security and contributed to building resilience to drought in rural Ethiopia. Finally, Darrin Yoder examines how MCC partners in Latin America and the Caribbean are sharing their climate-change related challenges with one another while calling upon MCC to support their efforts not only in strengthening climate-resilient agricultural livelihoods, but also in using MCC’s voice and influence to advocate on policies that affect communities’ natural resources and ability to adapt to climate change.

What is the responsibility of relief, development and peacebuilding agencies in the global North like MCC to mobilize their supporters in responding to the threats posed by climate change through public policy advocacy and efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Public policy advocacy around climate change is rarely straightforward, as Tammy Alexander explains in her article about the complexities of advocacy related to the Green Climate Fund. Meanwhile, Jennifer Halteman Schrock argues that Christians in Canada and the United States can play a key role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. Schrock explores the common traits of congregations engaged in creation care and offers suggestions for what is needed to mobilize other churches. While diverse and varied, the voices in this issue emphasize that by caring for the environment, we are caring for people.

Meara Dietrick Kwee is MCC learning and evaluation coordinator. Amy Martens is research associate in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department.

Learn more

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Parenti, Christian. Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. New York: Nation Books, 2012.

Agent Orange/Dioxin and the ongoing legacies of the Vietnam War

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) was established on January 10, 2004, uniting people living with the effects of Agent Orange (AO) exposure and those who have volunteered to support them. VAVA mobilizes domestic resources, as the government looks to VAVA for recommendations regarding policies in support of affected persons. With support from international partners, VAVA assists families affected by AO through agricultural and educational support, routine health checks and ongoing medical care and rehabilitation. VAVA also joins its international partners in advocacy for justice for people living with the effects of AO in Vietnam.

The Vietnam War ended long ago, but the war’s legacies continue to linger in Vietnam. During the conflict, the U.S. military sprayed more than 80 million liters of toxic chemicals—of which approximately 61 percent was Agent Orange, contaminated with an estimated 366 kilograms of the highly-toxic substance dioxin—over large portions of central and southern Vietnam. Intended as a chemical defoliant, AO has caused serious
environmental devastation. Meanwhile, more than 4.8 million people suffered exposure to AO and more than three million people in Vietnam have died or are suffering from serious diseases or disabilities caused by AO exposure. The children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of people directly exposed have suffered AO’s effects. Many families have three or more members who require assistance for daily living, exacerbating families’ already difficult economic situations.

During and following the war, international support from various organizations, individuals and governments have aided the Vietnamese people in physical and mental recovery from the consequences of war. The help of friends and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) is not only of material significance, but also a source of great encouragement for people affected by AO in Vietnam. Furthermore,
international partners have strengthened advocacy efforts to petition the U.S. government in cooperating with Vietnam to address the ongoing health and environmental devastation created by AO.

Through our partnership with MCC, VAVA provides medical care, physical rehabilitation and livelihoods training for people affected by AO, especially in Quang Ngai Province. We at VAVA have appreciated the dedication and professionalism of MCC’s experienced staff and its committed workers. Close friendships have been forged with MCC workers and VAVA staff through years of collaboration on projects to assist people affected by AO. Additionally, people in Quang Ngai have particularly appreciated the presence and contributions of MCC workers who have lived and worked alongside people living with the effects of AO in Duc Pho commune, accompanying them in overcoming some of their sufferings in life.

Since its inception, VAVA has grown into a nationwide organization with more than 360,000 members throughout almost every province of the country. It has mobilized more than 1.2 trillion Vietnamese dong (U.S.$60 million) to assist affected persons with housing, loans, healthcare, disaster recovery and scholarships. VAVA has also made significant strides in raising awareness in Vietnam and throughout the world about
the AO tragedy, garnering further support to aid affected people. VAVA also regularly sends delegations to meet with veterans’ peace groups in other nations as it mobilizes international support, and VAVA continues to press the U.S. government to assume responsibility for damages caused by AO.

VAVA’s accomplishments add to the collective efforts of the Vietnamese people to address this particular calamity of the war, together striving to gradually improve and stabilize the lives of people affected by AO. Coordination and cooperation with international NGOs have increased the capacity of VAVA, both in Vietnam and internationally, to respond to the ongoing needs of Vietnamese people living with the effects of AO. VAVA looks forward to continued partnership with the goal of easing the daily struggles of Vietnamese people living with the effects of AO.

Lieutenant General (retired) Nguyen Van Rinh is chairman of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA).

Learn more

VAVA website: vava.org.vn/?lang=en

The Aspen Institute: Agent Orange in Vietnam Program website: https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/agent-orange-in-vietnamprogram/

Martini, Edwin A. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.