7th Jun 2023

2020 saw record number of climate activists murdered

  • The Philippines suffers one of the highest rate of environmental killings in the world. (Photo: mansunides)
Listen to article

Some 227 climate activists were killed in 2020, new figures on Monday (13 September) revealed, up from a previous record of 212 the year before.

Global Witness, an environmental and human rights group, gathered data from across the world involving violent attacks on climate activists and found that on average more than four people died every week while defending the environment.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

At least a third of the attacks were linked to resource extraction: logging, mining, hydroelectric dams and big agriculture, with 99 percent of the killings documented in the Global South (Africa, South-Americas and Asia).

Countries like Colombia, the Philippines and Honduras suffered the highest murder rates among climate activists. Indigenous people represented a third of the people killed while only representing 5 percent of the population.

Beyond killings, Global Witness reports tactics like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence or criminalisation, which are even less well-documented than murders.

Europe, the US and other wealthy northern countries have barely reported any murders connected to environmental activism in their own countries. But they have contributed to the problem in the global south by financing infrastructure projects that later were linked to the targeted killing of environmental activists.

Hydrological and mining projects need large scale investments "across wide supply chains, where inadequate due diligence practices often fail", Global Witness warned.

"Poor risk assessment may not only lead to fatal attacks against indigenous communities but cost huge amounts in both bottom line and reputation."

Although at the moment no European financial institutions are directly linked to any of the 2020 murders, UK and EU financial institutions have in the past been connected to parties responsible for environmental assassinations.

Honduras and Philippines case studies

In 2016 Berta Cáceres was murdered in her sleep in Honduras after opposing the Agua Zarca hydro project - which several European institutions funded.

It turned out that the businessman who ordered the killing received funding from the Dutch Development Bank (FMO).

The bank ended its investment in the project in 2017, a year after the murder. Currently, it is being sued by the Cáceres family in a Dutch court.

Also in 2016, Gloria Capitan was killed in her family's karaoke bar in the Philippines. She was a community activist who had spoken out against a slew of coal facilities in Bataan province that several financial institutions funded. Among them are the UK bank Standard Chartered and the World Bank.

The project has polluted water sources and caused health problems, and the campaign against the coal installations is ongoing, but the UK bank has failed to pay reparation those impacted by environmental damage, and has not officially responded to the assassination.

In March 2019, Standard Chartered said it would no longer provide project finance for any new coal-fired power plants. However, it still offers other financial services and provides over €4bn in lending and underwriting for the top 120 coal-plant developer companies.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding, due-diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance.

Although Global Witness said on Monday that this legislation could have a positive impact on the security of "environmental defenders", the NGO's CEO, Mike Davis, said he fears the proposal could still be "watered down" because it is overseen by "pro-business" director-general for internal market, Thierry Breton.

Climate activists shut down European business conference

British-style "climate camp" activists shut down the annual conference of the Confederation of European Business in Brussels on Wednesday morning, occupying and blockading the European Commission building where industrialists were due to talk about global warming.


Final steps for EU's due diligence on supply chains law

Final negotiations on the EU due diligence law begin this week. But will this law make companies embed due diligence requirements in their internal processes or incentive them to outsource their obligations to third parties?

Latest News

  1. Israeli settlers encircling Jerusalem, EU envoys warn
  2. No clear 'Qatargate effect' — but only half voters aware of EU election
  3. Part of EU middle class 'being squeezed out', MEP warns
  4. Migration commissioner: Greek pushback film 'clear deportation'
  5. In 2024, Europe's voters need to pick a better crop of MEPs
  6. ECB president grilled over €135bn interest payout to commercial banks
  7. EU political ads rules could be 'hotbed for retaliatory flagging'
  8. Final steps for EU's due diligence on supply chains law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us