Special Report

Countries Where the Most People Are Killed Defending the Environment

As the world comes to the realization of the profound damages human beings are causing to natural environments worldwide, groups across the globe have long been trying to protect the local land and environment. In some places, these struggles are not always peaceful, and last year alone, 200 people were murdered for their work defending the environment, according to a recent report. (Earth’s CO2 level rose every year since climate change became a national issue.)

In some countries around the globe there have been violent clashes over land use, pollution, hydroelectric and other projects, and the rights of indigenous people. Climate defenders in these areas fight multinational agribusiness that continually encroach on land not not theirs, wildlife poachers, and criminal gangs involved in illegal logging of pristine forests, to name a few.

To find the countries where the most people have died defending the climate, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on confirmed killings of land and environmental defenders around the world every year since 2012, published in the annual report by London-based non-governmental environmental justice organization Global Witness. Due to the difficulties of tracing every incident, these killings represent a massive undercount. We added population figures for the most recent year available from the World Bank. 

Global Witness has recorded 1,733 murders of land and environmental defenders from 2012 to 2021. The report also sheds light on who is being killed, who is doing the killing, and what sectors are fueling the violence. 

Of the 1,733 people confirmed to have been murdered for their activism in land use and environmental issues, 60% were either indigenous people, small-scale farmers, or both. An additional 13% of victims were park rangers or other government officials, journalists, or lawyers. The characteristics of the victims in about one in five of these murders are unknown.

Of those who committed these killings, about a third have been linked to armed forces, local police, or private military or security guards. About 27% of these perpetrators are categorized as hitmen or killers with links to local organized crime. The characteristics of about a third of these killers are unknown.

Mining and other related extraction activities was identified as the sector driver in 18% of these killings, while agribusiness, hydroelectric projects, and logging were the sector drivers in about one out of four of these murders. However, the sector drivers in half of these murders, 871, are unknown.

The most dangerous countries for environmental defenders are mostly located in Latin America. Seven of the 10 countries with the most confirmed murders of land and environment defenders are in this region. (Here are the countries facing the worst climate emergencies.)

Here are the countries where the most people have died in environmental activism.

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