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In 2022, the world witnessed a grim reality as environmental activists paid the ultimate price for their dedication to protecting our planet. According to a recent report by the non-governmental organization Global Witness, at least 177 environmental defenders were brutally killed during the year, averaging one death every other day. This alarming statistic sheds light on the dangers faced by those on the front lines of environmental protection, with Indigenous communities bearing a disproportionate burden. While the number of deaths decreased compared to 2021, the figures remain disturbingly high.
Global Witness’ report highlighted several countries as the deadliest for environmental defenders in 2022, with Colombia topping the list, accounting for 60 murders. Brazil, Mexico, Honduras, and the Philippines followed closely behind, collectively responsible for nearly 88% of all lethal attacks. In Latin America, the killings of activists like Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips in Brazil drew international attention. These horrifying events underscore the pressing need for action to protect those who are dedicated to preserving our planet.
One deeply troubling aspect of the report is the disproportionately high number of Indigenous activists among the victims. Indigenous communities, representing only about 5% of the world’s population, accounted for 34% of all murders. These communities often act as crucial guardians of ecosystems, especially forests, which play a fundamental role in mitigating the climate crisis. Yet, they find themselves under siege in countries like Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela for their efforts to protect their ancestral lands. The tragic irony is that those best equipped to safeguard our environment are the ones most vulnerable to violence.
A significant driver of the violence against environmental defenders is the global scramble for natural resources in regions such as Latin America, Asia, and Africa. This competition is fueled by the demand for rare earth minerals, essential components of electric cars and wind turbines. As the world transitions to cleaner energy sources, the extraction of these minerals intensifies, often at the expense of the environment and local communities. This relentless pursuit of resources exacerbates conflicts and puts defenders of climate-critical ecosystems at great risk.
While the number of deaths in 2022 was slightly lower than the previous year, it is still unacceptably high. Global Witness calls for special protections for environmental defenders who safeguard climate-critical ecosystems. Governments must enforce existing laws and create a safe environment for individuals striving to protect their lands and ecosystems. Businesses also bear a responsibility to ensure their supply chains and activities are not linked to violence against environmental activists.
Furthermore, the underreporting of attacks worldwide suggests that the actual figures are likely higher, especially in Africa and Asia. Non-lethal attacks aimed at silencing defenders may be more prevalent but difficult to document. Therefore, a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the challenges faced by environmental defenders is essential to address this crisis effectively.
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