Calls for action at COP26 after 1005 climate defenders murdered since 2015

A group of environmental and human rights activists came together outside the COP26 summit in Glasgow to pay tribute to the 1005 land and environmental defenders who have been murdered since the Paris Accords in 2015.

Headed by international NGO Global Witness, the protestors staged a demonstration outside the high-level climate summit, bringing together the world’s most powerful leaders and environmental stakeholders.

“We’re here urging world leaders at COP26 to put people and the planet first. Over 1000 Land and Environment Defenders have been killed for protecting their land and our shared planet since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015,” Global Witness wrote on Twitter.

The organisation was established in 1993 and aims to break links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses around the world.

Their demonstration included a video with all the names of the murdered activists, most of which are indigenous people. They also projected the images of the deceased and said “the names of these activists should be on our lips and in our hearts.”

Many of the activists were killed after standing up to corporations and multinationals that threaten their lands and wreck the planet through exploitation. The organisations said “COP26 is our last best chance to act and ensure that this summit puts and end to the killings of environmental activists once and for all.”

Global Witness recorded a record high of 212 murders in 2019, and an average of four people a week since the Paris Agreement was signed. The agreement was signed in Paris in 2015, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. As of October 2021, it has 192 signatories.

It aims to assist parties in adapting to climate change and requires them to plan, determine, and report on its contributions. While the agreement was lauded by signatories and world leaders, many environmental organisations have said it is insufficient. Despite criticism, the agreement has been successful in some cases of climate litigation.

The most high-risk areas for environmental defenders include mining, logging, and agribusiness. Global Witness said the number of attacks in this area has risen in recent years “as companies seek to expand their beef, soy, and palm oil operations.”

Many of those in the firing line are indigenous people who have protected their land for generations. They are executed by “unaccountable companies, state security forces, and contract killers,” adding that impunity reigns with a lack of investigations or prosecutions. 

They call on governments and international organisations to adopt laws that both respect and protect environmental defenders and bring those who commit crimes to justice. Additionally, they have called on companies and investors to evaluate their businesses and strengthen their policies and commitments to defenders.

Global Witness also spoke out over the signing of the Declaration on Forests and Land Use that was signed at COP26. They noted that while it had an impressive array of signatories, it “lacks teeth” and doesn’t have the financial backing it needs to be effective.

The declaration aims to implement measures to halt and reverse global forest lost by 2030, but Global Witness said more needs to be done.

“If global leaders are serious about stopping forest destruction then they must back up today’s announcements with a commitment to bring in strong and binding national legislation that makes it illegal for companies and financial institutions to fuel deforestation,” said Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy at Global Witness.

But it was not just Global Witness sounding the alarm at the summit. Reporters Without Borders and over 60 environmental journalists from 34 countries called on participants to respect the rights of journalists to cover international climate issues.

They said that in the last 20 years, 21 journalists have been murdered for investigating climate and environmental issues. They declared it a “Climate emergency, journalism emergency.”

The organisations called on governments to formally acknowledge that the right to information on climate issues is inherent to the right to a healthy environment and health.

“Nearly 30 years after the right to cover environmental issues was proclaimed in the UN Earth Summit declaration in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, this right must finally become a reality, it must finally be applied and respected without exception, as something self-evident,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“At the hour of the climate emergency, this is a journalistic emergency. Environmental coverage is now vital.”


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