Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on Climate Change

Ahoy from Prague! ‘Ahoy’ is Czech for “hi,” and is one of the few words I learned during this e-day conference for young leaders from Central and Baltic Europe and the U.S.A. Solidly anchored in the center of geographic Europe, Prague hosted the second gathering of young leaders. A program of the U.S.

 Department of State and the Institute of International Education, this November conference brought over 150 leaders under the age of 30 from the U.S. and 12 Central and Eastern European countries. Together we are participating in trans-Atlantic strategic learning and exchange sessions. And the exchange has certainly been engaging. Another Czech translation that I have learned is klimatických změn, or “climate change.” My focus group is on environment and climate change.

My group’s topics of exploration and dialogue vary from climate change and trans-Atlantic security, to building political and public will towards stronger environmental legislation, to environmental literacy and education for sustainable development (ESD), for which I moderated a panel discussion with two Czech ESD experts. The exchange between the European delegates with the U.S. counterparts brought forth interesting avenues of exploration for how each country has addressed environmental issues and the challenges that our generation will have to contend with in the 21st century. The Czech Republic provides an interesting setting for this event, as it was formerly the second-worst polluted country at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Dr. Bedrich Moldan, Director of the Charles University Environmental Center and Senator of the Czech Republic Parliament, pointed out, Czechoslovakia under Communist rule was heavily polluted from industrial waste, without an active civil society to advocate for their local environment. Today, the country has undergone a transformation, with a close-knit environmental community and NGO network. Prague’s drinking water ranks among Europe’s best in quality. Yet challenges remain. With a climate skeptic president and a general public that is suffering from similar symptoms of the U.S.’s disputed “climate fatigue,” the Czech Republic is having trouble garnering further support for action at the government and individual level. My discussions with other European counterparts have brought forth further room for comparison. Anna Serzysko, of Poland’s Ministry for the Environment, has described to me her country’s difficult position in the European and global climate dialogue with their dependence on the coal industry. Other participating countries have described their conflicting views on the positives and negatives to nuclear power. And their flurry of questions for U.S. delegates on current U.S. inaction on climate change legislation have made clear our own country’s lack of awareness and initiative in building a more environmentally literate society and greener economy. In the final day of sessions, I worked with my project team, “Teaching the Next Generation to Live Sustainably.” After the conference ended, the dialogue and collaboration continued, as my project team works trans-nationally to further awareness and education about the environment and sustainable living. I thank the Institute of International Education and the State Department for providing us with this unique opportunity.