Climate Change

Two Leaders. Two Nations. One Shared Planet. — THE MAYORS

(The Mayors are fictional characters)

Two mayors from two different ends of the world are challenged by the effects of climate change on their local communities, to varying degrees and extremes. Mayor Willie Olivier Wei and Mayor Henrietta Orion II first meet at a global sustainability conference, and forge a partnership and friendship as they commiserate about their realities back home. Mayor Orion is struck by the imminent extremes of Mayor Wei's day-to-day existence, and Mayor Wei feels a nostalgic need to protect Mayor Orion and her constituency from the direction they are taking if they don't dramatically alter their consumption patterns. Together, they recognize that, despite being on opposite sides of the earth, they are deeply connected, and that their stories can influence other leaders to draft policies and alter societal practices on the one earth we all share. They exchange ideas and relay frustrations in hopes of doing more than informing society, and instead inciting committed policy changes globally. Their goal: Secure the future well-being of their citizens.

ICDP Review Report The 5 Pillars

Climate Change

How to Save the Planet

Imagine you’re one of 100,000 citizens living on an island nation, witnessing your home and the homes around you slowly slip below sea level and disappear forever. The current rise in tide has forced you and your neighbours to relocate inland to higher ground—for now—relying on desalinized water and struggling to sustain increasingly vulnerable livelihoods. What sinks is gone forever; what remains is precious, representing what's left of your community and culture. Perhaps your village church still stands, a gathering point for an island surrounded by seawalls, monumentalizing the inevitable. Climate change causes these impacts, in large part driven by burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agricultural practices that have brought gains to so many others but not much to you.

“The fact that the poor bear the brunt of environmental burdens, and that the accustomed model for improving living standards, expanding opportunities and guaranteeing dignity and human rights is inherently unequal and proving unsustainable, is one of the major ethical quandaries in human history.”

Now, imagine you're a resident of a major coastal city in the Americas—a commercial centre that functions largely through car travel, and relies heavily on the international shipping industry. While shipping provides jobs for you and your neighbours, it and the satellite industries linked to it—transport most particularly—pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an alarming pace. The climate has become increasingly harsh with extreme seasons. Your coastline is hit frequently by hurricanes projected to grow stronger over the coming decades. Recent natural disasters have resulted in the decimation of homes and stretches of neighbourhoods due to wind damage, flooding and storm surges. These disasters damage the local economy, displacing residents and destroying businesses. Infrastructure, from housing to wastewater, power and transportation have taken hits, with recovery costs in the billions, and insurance industry and national government support reaching its limits. Those with resources hold on, repairing, rebuilding and paying ever higher insurance premiums, while those with nothing are forced to move permanently. Consumption and production continue unabated, often by and for the benefit of a select few.

Back home in their respective countries and communities after the global sustainability conference, Mayor Willie Olivier Wei and Mayor Henrietta Orion II gear up to apply, adapt and implement many of the ideas they learned.

Where Mayor Wei's priorities previously focused around global expansion of the fishing industry and tourism, and locally around the community's obsession with all things rugby, now his time in office will focus entirely on building a resilient and sustainable society. While the harsh reality of climate change is a global governance issue, Mayor Wei can’t help but feel the welfare and destiny of his constituents are his responsibility. Perhaps his decision-making can contribute to ensuring safety and dignity for the more than 100,000 lives in his country.

Meanwhile, Mayor Orion’s return home is met with anger and frustration by her constituents. They don't like being told to consume less, and don’t accept studies that connect overconsumption, and the economic and employment challenges the country and her community face. The costs of gasoline, and everyday products like orange juice, bread and milk, along with an overwhelmingly poor fishing season, has Mayor Orion's public popularity at an all-time low. Everyone is upset, and media and Internet chatter exacerbate things with unsubstantiated information. People are pushing back by blaming government leaders rather than recognizing and changing their behaviours to better respect the environment and its various resources.

Reality Strikes

While the levels of imminent threat are different for the two mayors, they start out with similar plans to address climate change. They will use their platforms and new information to advocate for sustainable development, from the local to the global levels. Mayor Wei, for example, successfully garners the support of his nation's president to push forward with building seawalls to protect structures from further slipping into the ocean. Mayor Orion meanwhile mobilizes a drive for universal public services like an improved rapid transportation system. She is working with the major university in her country on a climate change summit. Hosting such a high-profile event in her city will be valuable in educating the public. There are negotiations with high-profile celebrities to speak about the environment, and perform for attendees and those streaming the conference.

“While certain technologies are proven and are being widely deployed, efforts to develop new, as-yet-unproven technologies will be critical to achieving the ambitious reductions in environmental impacts that will be required in the coming decades.”

Both Mayor Orion and Mayor Wei are developing mangrove-cultivation programmes for their coastlines. The mangroves will help control pollution and contaminants, revitalizing terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. They’ll be used for food production, medicines, fuel, and, in Mayor Wei’s case, construction materials for seawalls. Mangrove forests will also act as a buffer zone between the open ocean and the land to protect the shores, plant and animal life, and human beings from potential damage.

Both mayors commit to regulating their fishing industries and transforming trade waters into a protected reserve. Protecting the waters and the ecosystems is costly, involving easily millions of dollars in licensing fees. As anticipated, there is resistance in their communities. High-level leaders ignore the innovative alternative ideas they present. Why? Well, fishing represents a major source of revenue for both countries, and regulating production and sales hits immediately and with financial force. The mayors persist: A low GDP has a point of return; losing a homeland doesn't.

Decision-making changes dramatically, however, after Mayor Wei’s community is devastated by a tsunami. Smaller nearby islands that are part of his archipelago nation are obliterated. The 35 percent of the coastline heavily relied upon for fishing is severely damaged. This kind of extreme weather isn’t just occurring around small island nations. Across the world, harsh weather in the form of polar vortexes and destructive hurricanes are wiping out coastal communities. A shattering hurricane floods Mayor Orion’s community, forcing her and her constituents to vacate their homes.

In the wake of these extreme weather events, both mayors' legislation is approved at the national level. Forty per cent of surrounding waters are closed to commercial activity and fish consumption decreases. Protecting biodiversity and lessening the carbon footprint of marine traffic aims to slow some of the environmental effects. The Mayors know this won’t fix things, but they take the temporary solutions they can get, strategizing sustainable solutions they hope will eventually be adopted by the highest levels of government around the world.

The extreme weather has both mayors with their constituencies relocating inland. In Mayor Wei’s community, high tides and flooding have left well water undrinkable due to saline exposure. Both governments face expensive relocation costs and repairs that add additional financial burdens. The only consistency either mayor can enjoy is Internet access. Their communication increases, as they exchange ideas about restoring access to safe drinking water and managing overcrowding. In Mayor’s Orion’s community, the dramatic weather has been a wake-up call. There are awareness campaigns. Recycling, water conservation and wind energy programmes amp up as people experience what day-to-day survival means in the wake of a storm.

Fortunately, the world is paying attention. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram buzz with coverage of the work both mayors are doing for their compromised cities. People are sharing news updates online, forwarding and liking articles around the progressive and alternative measures the mayors are applying. Mayor Willie Olivier Wei is cleverly trending at #WOWsustainablesolutions and Mayor Henrietta Orion II, equally clever, at #cleanH20forall.

Traditional media soon follow in embracing the two mayors as personalities, and leaders making change on pressing environmental issues. Both mayors make appearances on television, write books and make the covers of magazines as "Heroes of the Year." This world attention and the urgency for action inspire celebrities to join in. Thousands of people attend rallies. The famous perform at global conferences and concerts. Awareness is at an all-time high. Finally, the global constituency seems to agree on climate concerns.

Commitment and implementation at the highest levels of governments and corporations, however, are absent. When governments do convene for a climate summit, the result is only a weak outcome with no concrete way forward. There is no global consensus on this issue that ultimately is inspiring and touching the personal lives of billions.

Individual and Policy Changes

For Mayor Wei, things are getting real very quickly. His president and well-respected scientists predict his island home as well as other island nations will slip beneath the water's surface within the next 20 years. Moving inland was temporary. Now relocating and repatriating to another country is the focus of leadership for the entire country. The president is exploring options to carefully and thoughtfully provide everyone with the opportunities to choose and move with dignity, full rights and access—so as not to end up as refugees and second-class citizens in what will become their new homes.

“A fundamental change to patterns of consumption is required to slow down the frenetic waste of natural resources, to refocus development aspirations on achieving dignity for all and to enrich prospects for human dignity for future generations. Without marked changes in consumption behaviour and material aspirations, particularly among those at the top end of the consumption curve, who account for so great a drain on resources, new technology and improvements in business and transport practices can only delay impending disasters.”

Mayor Wei and his residents are spiritual people. They accept a bigger picture. When praying, they don't ask for a reverse in the effects of climate change, but rather pray to influence and sway the minds of big industries around the world, whose collective impacts continue to affect lives like theirs.

Mayor Orion is now heading a task force with several legislators and environmental leaders who are lobbying to protect communities along all coasts of the Americas, as new reports warn of further sea level rise and hurricane storm surging. While their dates of imminent danger are projected later, by 2050, not doing anything to change will be foolish, as Mayor Wei emphasizes in a Skype conversation with Mayor Orion.

Mayor Orion writes an article inspired by her conversations with Mayor Wei. In it, she states: "It's more than losing wetlands, it's losing energy sector and petrochemical jobs. It's losing our history, where we're from, our cities and parts of our souls." She and her task force are making strides as they lobby companies to be legally mindful of carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants, industrial processes and vehicle exhaust. They arrive armed with high-quality data on slowing the rise in sea levels, and diminishing droughts and intense storms. The task force is productive, having drafted new standards to reduce carbon pollution. Their goals are ambitious, but if things can continue to move forward at a state and national level, some of the damage done—the loss of land—can be undone over the next 50 years.

Their latest triumph comes in the form of a call for a 30 percent reduction nationwide in carbon emissions from electric power plants operating over a specified carbon level. Their plan is to reduce electric power plant emissions by an average of 39 percent over the next 15 years. While businesses are wary, the task force is working to be flexible and realistic. Together they can reach the reduction goals while still allowing for continued economic growth. The task force is also implementing programmes to assist residential users in reducing their energy use through home insulation. The process has increased job opportunities locally, since these energy efficiency investments can't be done overseas.

Mayor Orion shares her hope with Mayor Wei, who agrees that these programmes and concrete solutions will slow if not change things. While the social media trending, celebrity endorsements, appearances on TV and magazine covers were all exciting and inspiring, action and follow through are what the two mayors want to accelerate change. No longer is it about leadership asking. Now it is about demanding, says Mayor Wei in the opening credits of an award-winning documentary on climate change.

The mayors, with the support of their top leaders, are demanding collective changes as one united force. At the end of the day, or really, at the end of the world, say the mayors, we must be careful.

The question when stripping away money and power is simple, says Mayor Orion, the concluding voice in that documentary: “Which planet do we leave for our future generations? Or, should we start saving and hope for tickets to the moon or Mars, and make all of the same mistakes all over again?”