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Making the Planet Great Again

A rough week lies behind us. We had to watch Donald Trump pick pieces of dandruff off the French President's shoulder. Granular detail that I could very well have done without. So could President Macron, I suppose. All statesman, however, the President of the French Republic took this test in diplomacy with grace. He had to.

The first ever state guest to be afforded a three-day White House luxury treatment by an otherwise unpredictable, bullish and solitary Donald Trump, Macron with his youthful charm and unflinching response to epic arm-wrestle handshakes seems to have left an impression, if not even a spur of trust. Could this 40-year-old be the Trump whisperer the world has been waiting for?

You do not have to actively follow President Trump's twitter account to understand that his tactics for reaching so-called "better deals" on a variety of issues ­– from the Iran nuclear deal, to the Paris Climate Agreement over to free trade with China and the rest of the world – always involve some of the same elements: 

First, a unilaterally generated crisis. Second, at the startled counterpart's first reaction to this, escalation to the point of threatening a total disruption of the status quo.  Third, a unilateral ultimatum which forces counterparts to come to Trump – and basically beg him – for new terms of the deal.

While this approach may have earned Donald Trump a certain measure of success – or at least fearful respect – in the business world, when applied to the "pacta sunt servanda" rules (i.e. where deals are binding) of international diplomacy, it not only jeopardizes relationships with long-standing allies, but actually undercuts the credibility of Trump's own word. Long gone are the times when the United States would lead by soft power, thanks to the attractiveness of her ideals and ideas.

Macron, the diplomat, however sensed his opportunity: he walked the fine line of advancing his charm offensive vis-a-vis Trump as a person while at the same time clearly speaking out against his politics of isolationism, trade wars and revoked international agreements. In the French philosophic tradition, Macron in his speech to Congress went deep: "What is the meaning of life if we work and live destroying our planet [and] the future of our children? By polluting the oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions, and destroying our biodiversity – we are killing our planet." Vigorously disagreeing on the substance while extending a hand in friendship seems to be the only way forward.

President Macron, however, is not the only leader who has learnt a thing or two about the way Trump ticks. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, on her one-day working visit to Washington elegantly started out her critical remarks with a compliment of how the historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea in Panmunjon the same day could not have happened without the robust intervention of POTUS Trump.

True. The unexpected optics of a Korean rapprochement after a 65-year-standoff may very well indeed constitute the first achievement of the Trump Presidency in the area of foreign policy. And yet, success is not only measured in instagrammable Hollywood-esq productions, but against progress in complex and deeply-ingrained policy fields, including the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

So, any chance for Time Magazine's headline to read "Trump Peacemaker" anytime soon? As tempting a turn of events this may be, let no one be fooled by a deceptively simple promise of Korean peace.

From 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC to the village of Panmunjon in the Demilitarised Zone separating the two Koreas, the week has had a certain intensity to it. But, it did not stop there.

In the midst of all the noise generated by one single man's mood swings, bewildering social media messages and ensuing emotional roller coaster rides for half the planet, it was obviously easy to overhear other, more subtle voices.

Take for instance the World Resources Institute, calling out the elephant in the (board)room: with a global population of 9 billion by 2050, a swelled-up 3-billion global middle class by 2030, and a depletion of natural resources at the current rate, our consumption patterns of tomorrow cannot possibly remain the same as today.

The planet simply cannot keep up pace with so many resource-hungry inhabitants. While this doesn't sound like something we would want to hear, it nevertheless opens up opportunities for first-movers who can read the signs and whose new, more sustainable business models may end up making them market leaders.

At times we may be surprised by where innovation is coming from, but rest assured, even some of the smallest players can start revolutions. Look at Sikkim, the least populous and second smallest state of the Indian Union: here, the state government banned the use of packaged drinking water and Styrofoam disposable plates, single-handedly leading the way in the global fight against toxic plastic pollution.


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