Murders are not usually considered an environmental topic, but they are becoming increasingly so. According to Global Witness, an environmental lobby group, 227 activists were murdered while working to defend the environment and land rights in 2020, the highest number known so far. It broke the previous record, set just in 2019.

According to Global Witness, on average four activists have been killed by violence each week since 2015. Their statistics do not include threats, injuries, or intimidation.

Global Witness also believes the number to be an underestimate, owing to poor reporting and the restriction of civic freedoms in some of the world’s most environmentally sensitive countries.

Nearly one-third of the murders were reportedly linked to resource prospects – primarily logging, but also mining, large-scale agriculture, and hydroelectric dams. Logging alone accounted for at least 23 cases in 2020.

An example is South African Fikile Ntshangase, a woman involved in a legal dispute over a coal mine near her home. She was shot dead in her own home, and while Tendele Coal, the owner of the mine, acknowledges that there were “local tensions” over the extension of the mine, they deny any fault in her death.

“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. This must stop,” said Chris Madden, a senior campaigner for Global Witness.

Madden called on governments to extend more protection to environmental defenders, especially those among indigenous people, who also accounted for a third of the cases. Colombia alone saw 65 activism-linked murders in 2020, nearly all of them indigenous activists. Other countries that featured high on the list include Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines.

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