There was a curious air at the end of the COP26 conference. It was only a week or so ago but already feels lost in the rear-view.
As the final hours ticked over, attendees began to clear out at speed. The fancy pavilion with so many international displays – Italy’s minimalist area was a favourite, though judging climate targets via design is not, I understand, the key way forward – was being darkened and taken down, even before agreement was reached.
I was stopped at least three times on the concourse by delegates who wanted to have their picture taken as they strode out of Glasgow. I’m really bad at taking photos. I fear, literally, blurring their memories.
The aftermath brought a mixture of positivity and anger. There had been movement, especially on methane, deforestation and a mention of coal, but China and India put the brakes on making 1.5 degree change unattainable in the short-term.
Debates followed about whether things would ACTUALLY change. I veer towards yes. It feels like we have come a great distance. Environmental issues are no longer fringe, they are central to how we live now. And if we want to live in the future.
But the laudable aims for the future are always hard to keep in focus when the difficulties of the moment monster them.
And just now the cost of living rise is quite a beast.
Last week, inflation hit its highest level for a decade. We can see where the fault lines are opening up. Domestic energy bills are galloping. Fuel at the forecourts is increasingly expensive. Shortage of lorry drivers and Brexit issues are raising food costs. There is a national insurance lift too. And we all know of the crisis so many people on the brink now face as the Universal Credit uplift has been removed. Every think tank worth its funding is warning of a mean, dark winter.
Demos said that young people, aged 18-30, are going to be the hardest hit age-group. They’re frequently at the start of careers, so salaries are low, they face rent and bill hikes and do not have great wiggle room to meet financial shocks. They’re carrying a burden for a crisis they didn’t contribute to.
They are not alone. Given where things stand, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that people on a £30,000 salary will need a 7.1 per cent increase from April 2022 just to maintain the standard of living they’re at now. The UK average salary is about £28,000.
It isn’t hard to foresee a period of strikes as people try to fight for a way to keep their heads above water.
There are things the government can do. This week, as part of our campaign to avert a mass homelessness crisis, we’ve worked through numbers around rent arrears for people impacted by Covid. A relatively small bill for government will save billions in future. And help the lives of 10s of thousands.
Beyond that, as we have been asking globally around climate change, big, bold moves and big investment is needed. It’s not enough to cry ‘levelling up’ but to do little about it.
It is time for leadership. Lives depend on it. It’ll be interesting to see who will step up.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue. Read more of his columns here.