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Environmental activists at high risk of violence and assassination, according to new findings published by the ACKnowl-EJ network

Environmental activists suffer high rates of criminalization, physical violence and murder, according to findings published recently in Global Environmental Change. This is despite the fact that environmental defenders employ largely non-violent protest forms. Activists suffer violence in 18% of environmental conflicts, and murder in 13% of such conflicts. Indigenous environmental activists suffer especially high rates of violence.

These findings draw upon analysis of 2,743 cases of environmental conflicts worldwide that were registered in the global Atlas of Environmental Justice (EJAtlas). The authors of the study include several members of the ACKNOWL-EJ network team, who were instrumental in establishing the EJAtlas. The EJAtlas is an interactive map that identifies existing environmental conflicts and documents cases that are verifiable through secondary sources.

The study found that bottom-up mobilizations for more sustainable and socially just uses of the environment occur around the world, in all income groups, and that grassroots environmentalism is a promising force for transformations towards a more just and more sustainable world. Local activism studied includes opposition to fossil fuel extraction, mining, tree plantations, hydropower dams and other extractive industries, and to waste disposal in the form of incineration or dumps.

The data shows that environmental defenders are frequently members of vulnerable groups who mainly employ non-violent forms of protest.

“This is the everyday activism of poor and indigenous communities defending their livelihoods and fighting dispossession,” said Leah Temper, Co-ordinator of the ACKNOWL-EJ network and co-Director of the EJAtlas.

The study also shows that environmental conflicts do not disappear with economic development but are simply shifted to new sectors, associated with changes in resource uses. Reducing environmental pressures on local communities and territories will require substantial societal changes.

Read the full paper “Environmental Conflicts and Defenders: a global overview”, by Scheidel A, Del Bene D, Liu J, Navas G, Mingorría S, Demaria F, Avila S, Roy B, Ertör I, Temper L, Martinez-Alier J. in Global Environmental Change.

The research was funded by the European Research Council (ERC), the Government of Catalonia’s Secretariat for Universities and Research of the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge (AGAUR), the International Social Science Council for the ACKnowl-EJ project and CONACYT (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología).


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