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Street papers call on world leaders to put climate justice first at COP26

The International Network of Street Papers is urging politicians to "protect vulnerable communities, prevent further poverty and highlight street papers as a source of under-represented voices and justice-driven journalism".

"Camp homeless" in the US

"Camp homeless" in Pinellas, Florida, which could turn deadly with extreme weather. Image: Tom Stovall/Flickr

A coalition of street papers from around the world have called on world leaders to put vulnerable communities first in their negotiations at the upcoming climate conference COP26.

The International Network of Street Papers (INSP) is urging politicians to “protect vulnerable communities, prevent further poverty and highlight street papers as a source of under-represented voices and justice-driven journalism”.

Maree Aldam, chief executive of INSP, said: “At this critical moment, we urge global leaders to work together, to share solutions and think innovatively to combat the climate crisis, not least to prevent further deepening of inequalities and further harm to vulnerable communities around the world.”

The temperature extremes brought by climate change — including longer, hotter heat waves each summer, fiercely cold winters, and an increased risk of flooding — pose an even greater risk to people experiencing homelessness.

And in regions where both heat and humidity are high, heat waves can turn deadly. Scientists have warned that, when there is too much water the air, sweat will not evaporate, making it impossible for people to cool down. This deadly combination is believed to be reached at temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius and nearly 100 per cent humidity, although this so-called “wet bulb temperature” rarely goes above 31 degrees at present.

“We’ve learned through the pandemic, that when you treat rough sleeping as a public health issue, you can do a hell of a lot of good,” said Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis.

“It always was a public health emergency, particularly in times of extreme weather. That spirit of Everyone In should apply all the time anyway, but especially when there’s extreme heat and extreme cold or storm conditions.”

Examples highlighted by INSP include Big Issue vendor Monica, whose home was devastated by flash floods in July, and sreet paper Hecho en Bs. As. in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which reported on the growing issues around access to clean drinking water in South America. In Brazil, a lack of water has led to rising energy prices, putting more households at risk of poverty and homelessness.

The UK is facing its own cost of living crisis thanks to a combination of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, and recent figures show the number of households facing homelessness doubled when lockdown lifted in the summer of 2021.

And the Canadian town of Lytton reached record highs of 50 degrees Celsius this summer, causing Peter Thompson, a seller of local street paper Megaphone, to comment: “As our planet gets hotter and hotter, our water supply will diminish, and without water, nothing lives. They spend billions to look for life on other planets which could be used to save this one.”

Author, activist and academic Raj Patel, told Seattle street paper Real Change: “The rule of thumb with the climate crisis is that if you have very little to do with it, you’ll experience its maximum impact.”

The COP26 conference starts in Glasgow on November 1 but fears persist that the two-week event will pass with many an encouraging word but little concrete action.

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