As if it’s not bad enough that the world is suffering from weather extremes and other climate-related disasters, last year a record 227 environmental defenders died for protecting the planet, according to an annual report by Global Witness. The report, which was released Monday, says that the number of murdered land defenders has more than doubled since 2013.
“It’s the communities that are most impacted by the climate crisis who are speaking up to protect their land, their communities and our planet,” said Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck, head of U.S. communications and global partnerships for Global Witness, as reported by EcoWatch. “It’s those environmental and land defenders who are especially vulnerable to killings and attacks.” Since the counts are based on publicly available data, the true number of fatalities may be underestimated.
Global Witness began publishing its annual report in 2012. Since then, the number of fallen environmental or land defenders has increased every year but one. According to the U.N. Environment Programme definition, environmental human rights defenders are “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna.”
The report found that like climate change, violence against land defenders disproportionately impacts the Global South. Colombia (65 murders), Mexico (30 murders) and the Philippines (29 murders) were the most dangerous countries for those defending land. Latin America was especially deadly, while Africa’s fatalities more than doubled since the previous study, from 7 to 18. A killing in Canada was the only land defender murder recorded last year in the Global North.
More than 71% of the land defenders killed in 2020 died defending forests. Other extractive industries, such as mining, large hydroelectric projects and agribusiness, were also deadly. The study authors noted that government inaction contributed to the deaths and that governments used the pandemic to limit protesting and free press rights. In 2020, 158 countries imposed new restrictions along these lines.
Lead image via Fabrice Florin