THE HILL 07/08/24
By Michael Shank and Eve Karoubi

In a critical election year for both the United States and Europe, climate policies are conspicuously absent from campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic. This omission is particularly stark considering the undeniable and mounting evidence of climate change’s impacts, and the fact that time is running out for us to act swiftly and decisively on climate change.

In the U.S., there’s a tabling of sound climate policy in order to cater to and appease voters in national elections later this year. While it’s no surprise to see Republicans running on an anti-climate agenda, prominent Democrats are doing it now, too. President Biden has been called out for backtracking on climate plans in order to curry favor with moderates and young voters.

Similarly, in New York state, the Democratic governor recently canceled the rollout of a long-planned congestion pricing scheme for New York City. The cancellation was an attempt to appeal to suburban voters, who drive into the city and who are up for grabs in determining congressional seats and Democratic chances of retaking the House. Expect more of this in the coming months and in the lead-up to the November elections.

In Europe, despite warming occurring at twice the rate seen elsewhere in the world, populist parties on the right gained traction during EU elections this year with platforms that eschewed ambitious climate policies and tapped into farmer protest angst, for example, around stringent environmental regulations, rising costs, bureaucratic red tape and competition from cheap food imports. The far right successes and the loss of 19 Green Party seats risk moving Europe further away from its ambitious climate policies under the Green Deal.

The trickle down into states is equally worrisome. The gain of more than 50 seats in parliament this month by France’s far right National Rally — a party with no policies on climate — illustrates how far off the campaign trail the issue remains. Media coverage and public debate, meanwhile, have largely focused on the party’s xenophobia and the threat it poses in terms of anti-democratic governance. The urgency of acting on climate is featured nowhere.

Despite all of this, EU and U.S. voters still rank the climate crisis as one of their most crucial concerns. The glaring question then is, why is such a critical issue missing from the political discourse?

The answer lies in a failure to effectively communicate the interconnectedness of the climate crisis with other immediate concerns such as security and economic stability. To remedy this, there are three critical steps that elected officials can implement not only on the campaign trail but also between campaign cycles and elections.

First, they can develop narratives that link the immediate and deleterious impacts of climate change to everyday life and broader social injustices. For example, by illustrating how climate change exacerbates local agricultural challenges or how it intersects with national security, it can make the issue more relatable and urgent. This approach not only demystifies the climate crisis but also makes it clear that climate action benefits everyone in the short and long term.

Second, they can showcase climate initiatives that constructively address social issues as a way of mitigating feelings of helplessness and anxiety. By highlighting the mutual benefits of climate actions — such as improved quality of life, enhanced public health and economic stability — it can help transcend political divides and directly appeal to individual and community interests.

Third, they can do all of the above in language and narratives that track with the words that the public is already using. Not multisyllabic and esoteric concepts like deep decarbonization, carbon neutrality or net-zero this or that. That’s not the language most people are using to describe their current climate reality. So, ditch the long-winded wording, as it’s not resonating and motivating, and listen in to how communities are communicating and mirror accordingly.

To be clear, U.S. and EU policymakers on the campaign trail don’t have to hide or backburner sound climate policy in order to appeal to voters. By reshaping the narrative to highlight the immediate and relatable impacts of climate change, it’s possible to galvanize public support and drive the decisive action that is so urgently needed.

That’s what effective policy communication looks like. It underscores — and often leads with — the co-benefits of climate action. Presenting climate policies as enhancements to public health, economic stability and social well-being — while providing concrete examples of sustainable practices and their immediate benefits — can, in fact, build robust support for climate initiatives.

There’s no time for more tabling and postponing as a political ploy. It’s possible to get votes for good climate policy, provided the impacts and opportunities are being effectively communicated and translated — and soon before more far-right political gains and more liberal flip-flopping.

Eve Karoubi is a climate advocate and Greenpeace France board member. Michael Shank, P.hD., is director of engagement at the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and adjunct professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.