Now More Than Ever
People unite for a cause. In 2004 when a tsunami hit southeast Asia, people came together, donating unprecedented amounts of money to support first aid and humanitarian work. When terrorists attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo, murdering several journalists, people across the world came together to demonstrate solidarity. Meeting the 2-degree target is, in comparison, an abstract concept. It is a difficult issue to rally behind – perhaps because its consequences are too unimaginable to grasp.
Regarding climate change, the cause that helps people unite might be Donald Trump. Whilst Trump may be the least qualified president the country has seen so far he is everything but an abstract concept. In fact, Trump might be a person so easy to dislike, that this fact alone is something his opponents should use to their advantage.
When Trump announced that the US intended to pull out of the Paris Accord – arguing that he represented the citizens of Pittsburgh, not of Paris – many, not only in the US, but also in Germany and around the world, felt shocked. A little later, shock became anger. What many people missed was the attention Trump drew to the Paris Accord. They did not notice the significance that his lack of understanding of climate change actually gave climate commitments. By pulling out of the Paris accord, he in fact created unprecedented momentum for climate engagement. When the mayor of Pittsburgh explained that he very much intended to continue actions to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, he immediately became popular well beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.
Around the world, people are now arguing the case for the Paris Accord, and nations express disbelieve in Trump’s decision. While Trump’s decision might not harm climate engagement in the long term, it most certainly harmed “brand America”. German chancellor Merkel expressed doubt whether the US continued to be the reliable partner it used to be since World War II. Less frequently covered, however, was another statement she made: “I am so moved and enthused that so many states and enterprises in the United States of America want to travel this path with us. We will travel it together.“
This statement expresses the certainty that many people in the US and Germany, notwithstanding the political party they support, are aware that climate change is not something invented by China, but in fact a very real threat to planet earth. It is this certainty, combined with the widespread dislike of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord, that can be used to united people on both sides of the Atlantic. It can be used to rally behind the climate commitments and strengthen ties between the US and Germany on a supranational level.
Stakeholders that try to reduce carbon emission and meet the 2-degree target are not only political leaders. There are NGOs, enterprises, small businesses, policy makers on a local level as well as private citizens that aim to meet climate commitments. Many have new ideas, new technologies and new suggestions to add to the discourse on climate engagement. Many of them are not yet being heard.
Thus, an online platform that accumulates those different approaches and allows for collaboration and direct exchange between all stakeholders is a crucial step towards rallying behind climate engagement. Not only can this platform be a way of learning about different approaches and allowing for the exchange of best practice examples that can help inspire others. It can also do something that appears to be impossible as of yet: It can visualize the climate engagement of both countries.
Whilst an online platform appears to be a trivial tool, it is a powerful one. Executed well, this can be a place to accumulate different approaches to climate engagement. The platform can give an overview over measures taken in both Germany and the US to meet the 2-degree target. It can be a place where stakeholders from both countries meet virtually, a forum for exchange, for inspiration and for sharing expertise. It can be a place to excite young people by highlighting best practice examples, thereby inspiring them to take action themselves. It can be a place that connects them to stakeholders in their community and informs private citizens about measures they can take themselves. It can be a place that allows citizens to unite, thereby helping them to address their local policy makers about an issue they care about.
In order to motivate stakeholders to share their expertise, to participate, to make their voices heard, and to remain optimistic that their actions actually have an impact, climate engagements needs to become something more than an abstract concept. It needs to become a goal with clear, visible milestones. While those milestones exist, they are mostly invisible to private citizens not yet invested in the issue. Thus, one main possibility of channeling all different approaches is to make those milestones visible. The platform can explain the aim of different approaches, collect data about their progress and use this data to implement a marker that indicates the contribution of different projects, both big and small, to the climate commitments.
Bold communication can be used strategically to gain attention on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in order to address stakeholders prior to launching the platform. Including stakeholders on all levels from both the US and Germany can extend cooperation and open additional opportunities for transatlantic engagement. The possibility are endless: Universities can share new insights via webinars, NGOs can use the platform to reach out to their communities and win volunteers, investors can find new projects to support and private sector companies can share ideas. The positive aspects of meeting climate commitments, such as the creation of new industries and new jobs, but also the reduction of emissions, can be visualized in order to counter climate skepticism.
An inclusive platform, set up to engage policy makers, NGOs and private citizens, can be a source of inspiration as well as a channel for transatlantic communication. It can motivate people to rally behind a goal that impacts everybody: saving planet earth.