In order to stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis, the world needs to transition rapidly to more sustainable business practices and a massive clean energy sector. But achieving this future has turned into a dirty business.
Human rights and land defenders are facing an epidemic of threats, violence, and even deaths, according to a new report. And unless companies and governments change their ways soon, this violence is about to get a whole lot worse in the quest for a cleaner future, trends suggest.
In 2021, there were at least 76 murders of such activists, 88 death threats, and 615 total attacks, the vast majority of them against land, climate, and environmental activists, according to a new report from the Business and Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC).
“We’re already seeing this level of attack, and we’re not seeing major producers of transition minerals have strong policies or practices in place about protecting defenders,” Christen Dobson, an author of the report, awning Grist. “There’s a real risk there and I think it’s an area that we’re very concerned about.”
The batteries, solar panels, and turbines desperately needed to secure a clean energy transition all require various metals and minerals for production like cobalt, nickel, zinc, lithium and others — and demand for transition minerals is set to increase by six times by 2040, According to the International Energy Association, setting up more potential conflicts with land defenders, especially in indigenous communities.
According to BHRRC’s data, indigenous people were the target of a disproportionate number of attacks, three times greater than their share of the global population, as major natural resource projects often failed to consult with these communities before plowing ahead.
Last summer, police used riot control weapons on protesters, many of them Native Americans, who were demonstrating against the Line 3 oil pipeline connecting Canada and the Midwest and argued that the project would damage tribal lands. (The company behind Line 3, Enbridge, denies these claims and said it properly consulted with surrounding communities.)
But it’s not just the US. The BHRRC report documents the killing of environmental activists from Mexico to Columbia to Kenya, and notes the worst violence has been in Latin America and the Asia Pacific regions.
What’s more, because so many of these threats occur in the shadows and outside the law, the real extent of the violence is probably much higher, the report’s authors argue.
Human rights advocates have called for companies involved in these sectors to build consultations with and protections for environmental activists and native communities into their business plans.
“The world must be made a safer place for people working to protect the planet, who sometimes pay with their own lives for their activism,” Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in March. “At particular risk are people who speak out against deforestation, extractives, loss of cultural heritage or identity, or large-scale-agribusinesses and development projects – including those intended to produce clean energy, such as mega dams.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.