Opinion

We need to plan for a green future or we risk being exposed

The changes needed to solve the climate crisis are interlaced. Waste, plastics, transport - we need to accept that we have to tackle them all, writes Big Issue editor Paul McNamee.

"Smarter than the average politician" read one sign, with arrows pointing to anyone stood either side of them. Image: Laura Kelly

"Smarter than the average politician" read one sign at the COP26 youth climate strike, with arrows pointing to anyone stood either side. Image: Laura Kelly

 A large, naked Scottish man, said Jon Sopel, stood in his front window as the US president’s motorcade passed by, capturing the moment on his phone. Sopel, the BBC Washington correspondent, paints quite an image. 

While there have been questions over what lasting legacy and positive global impact the COP26 meeting in Glasgow will deliver, the thought that this is one of Joe Biden’s takeaways from his two-day trip is a dominant one that is hard to shake. 

I don’t think that it’ll impact or dilute Joe’s commitment to the green cause. He is dialled in hard to cutting CO2 and encouraging the world to follow. We all hope he can deliver, and that he can get the tough to reach nations to deliver.

At present they’re not leaning in because it’s not in their interest. As the globe wrestles down CO2 China is accelerating coal mining to meet a growing domestic energy crisis. Russia has a lot of gas. What does it serve them to move away from that?  

The COP conference was never likely to deliver all the answers. The Blue Zone, where the speeches were delivered and plenary sessions sat, felt like a fancy trade fair, with the odd billionaire popping up to speak earnestly about what they learned in recent times. 

The real action, as ever, was outside. Glasgow was a pulsing mass of protests and sirens and helicopters watching protests. Scared you had missed a key set of demands from a pressure group? Fear not because another one was coming right along in a few minutes. 

That is how it should be. It is the pressure of protest that has moved environmental issues from the fringe to the driving governmental concern in under a generation. The acceleration in the last five years has been particularly acute. 

One of the telling announcements out of COP was on money. It was agreed that $130trillion of private finance would ‘align’ with science-based net zero targets. Essentially, big finance knows that people power is insisting it put money where its mouth is. Be green, or pay the price. 

It’s worth noting here that this is catching up with The Big Exchange. Co-founded by The Big Issue The Big Exchange is an investment platform wholly aimed at allowing people to have their money and investments make a positive impact on the planet. This is not a hard sell for that platform, rather a matter of fact. The Big Exchange was ahead of the curve.

There are other voices to pay attention to now. One of the groups campaigning outside the conference was calling for debt cancellation for developing nations. It would allow them to both grow again post-Covid, and to develop technologies to help meet climate targets. Keeping people in poverty is not a good response anywhere at any time. 

There are associated debates going on over waste, on plastics and transport. None of them rest in aspic on their own. The changes for the future are interlaced. And we need to accept that we have to tackle them all.  

If COP makes us keep these tough issues in front of our minds, we’re getting somewhere. 

One burning question remains, though. How did Sopel know the naked man was Scottish?

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue. Read more of his columns here.

paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com

@PauldMcNamee

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