Some 227 land and environmental activists were killed in 2020, the highest number ever recorded, according to a new report from Global Witness, an international human rights organization.
“This dataset is another stark reminder that fighting the climate crisis carries an unbearably heavy burden for some, who risk their lives to save the forests, rivers and biospheres that are essential to counteract unsustainable global warming,” said Chris Madden, a senior campaigner with Global Witness.
At least 30 percent of the murders were related to resource extraction, such as logging, mining, or the building of dams, with logging linked to the greatest number of murders, 23. Columbia saw the most killings, with 65, followed by Mexico, the Philippines, and Brazil. About three-fourths of the attacks took place in the Americas.
While Indigenous people only make up 5 percent of the world’s population, they accounted for more than a third of murder victims among environmental activists last year, the report said. Indigenous people were also targeted in 5 of the 7 mass murders carried out against environmentalists. In one particularly brutal instance, 9 Tumandok people were killed on the island of Panay in the Philippines; they were apparently targeted for their opposition to a dam project on Panay’s Jalaur River.
Since the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, an average of four environmental activists have been killed every week, according to available data. However, the true number is likely higher, as growing restrictions on free speech and freedom of the press mean that many cases are likely going unreported, Global Witness said.
“One day, we hope to report an end to the violence against those defending our planet and their land, but until governments get serious about protecting defenders, and companies start putting people and planet before profit, both climate breakdown and the killings will continue,” Madden said.