According to Global Witness, an international NGO established in 1993 that “works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide,” a record number of activists working to protect the environment were murdered last year.

227 people were killed around the globe in 2020, which broke the previous record set in 2019 (2012).

The report called the victims “environmental defenders” killed for protecting natural resources that need to be preserved, including forests, water supplies and oceans.

Due to growing international restrictions on journalists and civic freedoms, the figure is likely to underestimate the grim number.

Worst Offending Industry

The highest number of killings – 23 – were linked to logging, while deaths attributed to water and dams, mining, illegal crop substitution and agribusiness were all contributors.

“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.

U.N. Response

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.”

For a great piece on this emerging crisis, take a look at Why are environmentalists being murdered?