Report: 2020 is deadliest year for `environmental defenders’

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, file photo, a firefighter lights a backfire to stop the Caldor Fire from spreading near South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Thousands of wildfires burn in the U.S. each year, and each one requires firefighters to make quick decisions, often in difficult conditions like high winds and lightning. Crews and managers must determine when to bring in aircraft, what time of day is best to battle flames, whether to evacuate residents and even if certain fires should be extinguished at all. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
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LONDON (AP) — At least 227 people died last year defending their homes, land and livelihoods from environmental exploitation as the deepening climate crisis increasingly pits economic interests against local communities, according to data compiled by the environmental group Global Witness.

The total is the highest since Global Witness began gathering information about attacks on “environmental defenders” in 2012. Almost a third of the deaths were linked to resource exploitation, such as mining, logging and dam projects.

“It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders,” Global Witness said as it published its report.

All but one of the deaths occurred in developing countries in the Southern Hemisphere, where authorities have been unwilling to curb logging, mining and industrial development, the group said. Over half took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines. Colombia recorded the highest number of deaths for the second year in a row, with 65. Mexico recorded 30 and the Philippines 29.

The findings from Global Witness are horrific but expected, said Mary Lawlor, the U.N.’s independent expert on human rights defenders, who has conducted similar research.

“Corruption in criminal justice systems too often shields governments and businesses responsible for these murders, and the guilty are rarely brought to justice,’’ she told The Associated Press. “Until the political will to stop these killings is found, until this corruption is rooted out, we’re likely to see hundreds more killings of human rights defenders, including many defending the environment.”

The threat to environmental defenders has risen steadily since Global Witness’s first report in 2012, when it counted 147 killings worldwide.

“They’re at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding,’’ Bill McKibben, a leading climate change author and a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont, wrote in a forward to the report. “Accountability is rarely accepted by the C-suite. But corporations need to be more accountable and they need to take action.”

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