'Our promise': Craig Redmond on how Mercy Corps is fighting climate change

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'Our promise': Craig Redmond on how Mercy Corps is fighting climate change

Craig Redmond, Sr. Vice President of Programs for Mercy Corps. (Photo: Darius Radcliffe for Mercy Corps)

Craig Redmond has been a leader with Mercy Corps for more than 15 years. Now he's helping the organization adjust to the biggest threat to the developing world: climate change.

"I want people to know that climate change disproportionately affects the poorest in the world," says Redmond, Mercy Corps' Senior Vice President of Programs. "You know that really moves us to act with real urgency. That's our obligation and that's our promise to the communities that we serve."

Since 2000, Redmond has served in a variety of leadership roles in the field, including Regional Program Director for South and Southeast Asia. Prior to Mercy Corps, he worked with the U.N. In December, Redmond hosted a public discussion on Mercy Corps’ role in fighting climate change and what’s at stake for the developing world.

Climate change affects developing nations the hardest: Poor public health, overcrowding, insufficient infrastructure and rampant poverty plague developing countries and account for 95 percent of fatalities from natural disasters in the last 25 years.

Here’s the catch: developing nations account for over 54 percent of global fossil fuel use. By 2040, they will consume 65 percent. These states need inexpensive energy to raise their citizens’ public health and socioeconomic standards.

Redmond recently sat down with Global Envision to discuss Mercy Corps and its mission in the age of climate change.

GE: Why is climate change such an important part of Mercy Corps’ mission?

CR: I think we’re going to have trouble achieving our mission if we don’t address climate change. Some of the toughest places that we work around the world are suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change, and therefore to not take on that issue is shortsighted, and would be like not thinking about [economic] markets, or not thinking about health and hygiene. It’s one of the disciplines we have to be great at.

GE: What are some of the biggest concerns climate change poses for the developing world?

CR: Lots of research shows that underneath the issues, one of the early sparks of this or that crisis was something related to climate. The crisis in Syria, in fact. There's evidence that shows the change in rainfall patterns on farms, and the wells that did not recharge as they have in the past, forced people off farms and into cities, which helped stimulate some of the disruptions that happened there. And then you look at things like Darfur and Sudan, and this is an example of climate change affecting grazing patterns, which led to conflict. We could go on and on—climate change is present in a lot of the roots of the issues that we address.

Climate change is present in a lot of the roots of the issues that we address.

GE: How do you factor the poverty element into addressing climate change?

CR: We believe in the systems approach to what we do. In this case, the Climate Resilient Development model. You look at certain events and realize that a whole series of solutions have to be brought to bear in order to improve lives or build secure, productive, or just communities. On the question of poverty, some of the roots may be in climate change, but some of the solutions would be working on the broader resilience issues around that, including access to markets, including financial services. We’re not a single sector organization and therefore we take a systems approach and view of the problems that we address. We look at root causes when figuring out solutions.

GE: What is an example of Mercy Corps's success with the Climate Resilient Development Model?

CR: The work that we've done with the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network in Indonesia. I like the way that that program focused on resilience in secondary cities and the fastest growing urban centers in the world. We sat down with all the stakeholders, particularly government, and identified the sources of the threats and plotted out the solutions. That project had an interesting profile: We had a mandate to work closely with government and other organizations, such as research institutions, international foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation, and therefore there was a learning aspect to it, which allowed us to progress and course correct and really had all the elements that made it a great program.

GE: How will Mercy Corps transition into the stakeholder that can bring organizations together? How do you bring Mercy Corps to that next level?

CR: We have to be the organization that can, and does, have a vision for what is possible. We've done our homework, we've done our research, we know the issues, and we can create a compelling vision that will draw people and resources to the solutions. We talk about the “Three I's” at Mercy Corps: Impact, influence, and ideas. It's a matter of bringing all of those to bear on the complex issue of resilience.

We have to be the organization that can, and does, have a vision for what is possible.

GE: Developing countries account for 54 percent of global fossil fuel use – by 2040 it will be 65 percent. How do you raise wealth, while moving away from fossil fuels when it’s the infrastructure in place?

CR: We can model ways of helping to create wealth and economic stability in communities that aren't damaging to the environment. Mercy Corps on its own is unlikely to have a massive impact on 65 percent of the globe's decision to use fossil fuels or not. But, what we can do is influence the way governments move and the way communities act—we do that by modeling. We have to be out front in talking about the issues. It’s about creating political will for a positive change, and we have a role to play there.

GE: What international development problems could arise, or current issues that could be exacerbated, in the next 10 years and beyond, if climate change action falls by the wayside?

CR: I'm a believer in people's willingness to do the right thing. We have lots of evidence of this every day in the tough places that we work: people who do the right things for themselves and for their communities. At the same time, I'm extremely concerned about the political will on the highest level, to make tough decisions that will bring about the changes at the speed in which they need to happen. If you look at our world and where we're working, something tells me that the issues related to water are going to be major. A lot of people have been saying that for a long time, but it feels really even more critical than it did five years, 10 years ago. Ten years from now, we may well have that as one of our essential issues that we're trying to deal with, as an offshoot of the climate change question.

I'm extremely concerned about the political will on the highest level, to make tough decisions that will bring about the changes at the speed in which they need to happen.

GE: You mean potable water as well as sea level rise?

CR: Sea level rise is one thing, but I mean access to clean, safe water for consumption as well as agriculture. I grew up on a farm. I love asking questions of the farmers I meet all around the world, and I hear them saying that the farming practices that I was taught by my father, and his father taught him, no longer work. Nor do the seed varieties that we have. Nor do the irrigation practices that we have. Rainfall patterns have changed. I think this is a dramatic one and it’s happening faster than any of us thought.

GE: Because there are so many smallholder farmers and agrarian based communities in the developing world, right?

CR: Yes. For sure. That's why I feel so passionate, and why it’s smart for [Mercy Corps] to position ourselves around the question of resilience. So, how do we help smallholder farmers become more resilient to the effects of climate change? That's right at the heart of who we need to be.

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