Skip to content
A record 227 people were killed defending the environment last year, new report says

Environmental and human rights watchdog Global Witness gathered and analyzed 2020 data from around the world on deadly attacks on environmental defenders, and found that on average more than four people per week died defending the environment.

Global Witness reported that most of the killings took place in Latin America. Colombia was the hardest hit country, the group said, with 65 defenders killed either for protecting indigenous lands or for defending forests and their coca crops. Mexico, where a third of the attacks were linked to deforestation, ranked second with 30 killings.

The Philippines was the only country outside the region to record more than 15 deaths, Global Witness reported – 29 people were killed there for trying to stop mining, logging and dam projects. Together, more than half of the attacks in 2020 took place in these three countries, according to Global Witness.

Family members of some of the victims told Global Witness how lockdowns during the pandemic made it easier for defenders to be attacked in their homes, targeted to attack governments and businesses to protect the natural resources on which they depend. their communities.

The climate crisis is straining natural resources. Scientists said in August that the planet is warming much faster than previously thought. Without rapid and significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions, communities could face irreversible changes in ecosystems and the natural resources they need.

“2020 was supposed to be the year the world came to a standstill, but our data shows it hasn’t translated into safer outcomes for those who defend our planet,” Chris Madden, the one of the authors of the report.

“It is clear that the inexplicable exploitation and greed that is at the root of the climate crisis is also having an increasingly violent impact on people,” he added.

Climate change, along with rampant urbanization and industry, have resulted in water scarcity in many of these countries. Along with the southwestern United States, parts of Mexico, which ranked second on the list of countries with the highest number of killings, were hit by the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River, which feeds about 40 million people in the western region, including Mexico.

More than 70% of the attacks targeted people defending forests – one of the planet’s natural carbon sinks – from deforestation and industrial development, according to Global Witness. The watchdog says others have been killed for protecting rivers, oceans and other coastal ecosystems.

The report found that logging was the largest sector linked to most murder cases, with 23 in Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru and the Philippines, followed by the fight for water rights and against dam construction and mining.

And, although they represent only 5% of the world’s population, more than 30% of all deadly attacks targeted indigenous peoples in 2020. Global Witness has documented these attacks in Mexico, Central and South America, as well. than in the Philippines.

Environmental activists in Africa are also experiencing the same violence, but researchers say it could be underreported. Global Witness documented 18 killings on the continent in 2020, up from just seven in 2019. Most of these attacks took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while the rest took place in South Africa and Uganda.

The report found that more than one in ten defenders killed in 2020 were women, mirroring a 2020 study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature which found that climate change and environmental degradation are fueling violence against women.

“We know that beyond the killings, many defenders and communities also experience attempts to silence them, with tactics such as death threats, surveillance, sexual violence or criminalization,” wrote the authors. “These types of attacks are even less well reported.”

Adrien Salazar, policy director of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the report’s findings also reflect what is happening in the United States, where police are cracking down on Indigenous organizers protesting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure like the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota.

“Activists in the north of the world face increased criminalization, while conservationists in the south of the world face a growing risk of death,” Salazar, who was not involved in the campaign, told CNN. report.

“It is infuriating but also unsurprising that the killings of conservationists have increased again,” he added. “As this new report shows, these defenders – and Indigenous conservationists in particular – are putting their lives on the line to protect our future. “

Global Witness researchers analyzed international and national datasets that list attacks on conservationists, search engine alerts, news sources and information from dozens of local, national organizations and regional around the world. They also looked at the data in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

While Global Witness has documented environmental attacks around the world since 2012, the group noted that it may be underestimating the killings as many parts of the world lack a free press and independent oversight. attacks.

The authors as well as Salazar warn that as the climate crisis intensifies, attacks on those who try to stop it also intensify.

“As the climate crisis and ecological devastation accelerate, the companies that commit these crises will be relentless to pursue profits even above the cost of human living,” said Salazar. “Every life and every story counts. As long as the violence against the earth continues, the resistance will continue.”

.