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Environment

Why Environmental Activists Around the World May Be In Danger

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On Sunday, two wildlife officers were shot and killed by poachers in Pakistan. The two officers had intervened in the illegal poaching of migratory birds when they were attacked.

Unfortunately, attacks like these on environmental defenders have been on the rise, according to the Guardian.

Throughout 2017, 145 environmental defenders — and counting — have been killed around the world while defending their communities’ wildlife, natural resources, and land rights, the Guardian reports. Farmers have been killed in fights over land rights, wildlife rangers have been murdered by poachers, and activists have lost their lives while fighting against illegal logging and mining.

Nowhere has proven more dangerous for environmentalists than Brazil, where 39 environmental defenders have been killed this year so far. Many of these killings were committed by the loggers and landowners who profit off the Amazon’s bounty of natural resources. The country has consistently had the highest number of killings of environmental defenders over the last three years, according to Global Witness’s data.

Read more: These Are the 5 Deadliest Countries for Environmental Activists

Last year was the most deadly year for environmental activists recorded, but 2017 is on track to be similarly violent, according to Global Witness.

The attacks on environmental activists have been largely driven by profitable, extractive industries. According to the Guardian, the mining industry was the most dangerous industry to go up against in the past year. There were 33 activists who lost their lives while fighting against the mining industry and mining companies in 2016.

“There is now an overwhelming incentive to wreck the environment for economic reasons. The people most at risk are people who are already marginalised and excluded from politics and judicial redress, and are dependent on the environment,” the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment said. “The countries do not respect the rule of law. Everywhere in the world, defenders are facing threats.”

While the vast majority of the violence against environmental activists has taken place in developing countries, Global Witness says developed countries like the US have also seen a rise in suppression of environmental activists.

After hundreds of people protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline last year as a violation of the land rights of Native Americans and an environmental hazard, lawmakers in North Dakota considered a bill which would give drivers who “accidentally” run over protesters impunity. The bill was ultimately shot down.

“It is increasingly clear that, globally, governments and business are failing in their duty to protect activists at risk,” Global Witness said.

Rather than protecting activists, businesses and governments are working to legitimize their attacks on environmentalists by portraying them as rabble rousers and criminals, even filing civil suits against them. The owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline recently sued the environmental organization Greenpeace, alleging that the group violated a federal law against organized crime, according to the Washington Post.

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