Every year, hundreds of people around the world are killed and thousands more are intimidated and threatened for defending the environment from exploitation.
At a time when governments need to be taking decisive action to meet basic climate change targets, and to enact a more sustainable development (as per the Sustainable Development Goals), we’re seeing the wrong trend: fossil fuel companies, mining companies, agricultural developers and logging companies are bulldozing their way further into land inhabited by Indigenous Peoples and deeper into the world’s last remaining habitats.
The result? Frontlines of conflict across the world, where peaceful resistance to the expansion of corporations is retaliated against brutally.
In 2016, Global Witness reported on the deaths of 185 environmental defenders. These are people caught in the crossroads between corporations steamrolling their way to profit and the failure of governments to protect their people. Environmental defenders must be protected when doing their work – they are doing essential work on behalf of all of us – and that is also why we need to shed light on their struggles for the world to bear witness.
The following are six stories of everyday people who are either facing intimidation and threats themselves, or are supporting those who are. They were recorded late last year at an event as part of the United Nations climate talks, COP22, in Marrakesh, Morocco. We stand firm in solidarity with all of them, and to all those who are continuing their struggles despite these trends.
Roberto Marques is a chief from the Anacé People in Brazil. His community has been struggling against encroachment on their land from a hydropower scheme, a coal power plant, and the expansion of fracking in the northeast of Brazil.
“I was not there in the moment, but the police entered our lands with an authorization we don’t know from whom. It was lunch time, they kicked over our Chief’s food – who’s my father – and the food of other elderly people. They arrested him and brought him to the police station. I felt stricken by this, because it could have happened to me and he is a very important person to our people..It was like I was feeling it too.”
Roberto’s experience is unfortunately terrifyingly common in Brazil, especially amongst indigenous populations, and all too often it doesn’t end with intimidation, but murder. At least 50 people were killed in Brazil in 2015 for simply defending their land from the insidious creep of mines, logging and other big projects. That’s the highest rate of anywhere in the world.
Landry Nintertse is the 350.org Africa Team Leader from Burundi. Being an activist in many parts of Africa comes at high risk. Intimidation and threats of violence are commonplace in countries where fossil fuel and mining companies have a corrupting influence over the government.
“Environmental Defenders protecting natural resources in Africa are constantly being harassed, intimidated, sometimes detained or forced into exile because of their activism.
…most countries have constitutions that protect all citizens…to have it written is one thing, but to have it implemented is another thing.”
Protecting Environmental Defenders, as Nintertse highlights, not only requires global solidarity, but also local and global pressure on governments and corporations to guarantee the safety of anyone who resists their projects. In many countries this is an uphill battle, and much more needs to be done.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is from the Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad. She is co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, the Indigenous Peoples’ caucus to the UNFCCC. She is constantly working for the right of environmental defenders to be heard, and for the abuses carried out against them to be made visible to the world.
“To defend the rights of environmental defenders we need to defend their right to talk. We have to ensure that what [they] are saying is going far and louder”
Beyond the media, every individual can talk about what environmental defenders are facing. For example when an environmental defender is arrested, it is not documented”
When we are defending the environment, we are not defending for ourselves, but for the whole world”
Environmental Defenders are at the pointy end of what it takes to implement the Paris climate agreement – often they are stopping the projects that need to be stopped to meet ambitious climate targets, and as Ibrahim says, they’re doing it for all of us. So where governments fail to protect the human rights of Environmental Defenders, it takes movements of people to win their protection. Winning protection for Environmental Defenders is also winning in the fight to stop climate change.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is the Philippines-based UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Her work involves advocating for and reporting on the status of human rights of Indigenous Peoples to governments around the world. Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately affected by the expansion of mining and logging.
“Indigenous peoples have the right to continue living in their own lands and living the life they like. I receive three or four letters every day complaining about an indigenous person being arrested or a community which got burned, people who are displaced…It’s a reality and therefore imperative for us to act…
I think the presence of organisations like Amnesty International has no doubt helped defend those people who are in those kinds of situations…and we have to broaden the reach of organisations who are defending environmental defenders.”
The United Nations remains an important mechanism for seeking protection for Environmental Defenders, and beyond that, global solidarity has a huge role to play.We need to let corporations and governments know that they cannot get away with murdering, butchering or threatening those who stand in their path. Thousands of people campaigning to solve climate change are doing so in precarious situations where protection of human rights is not guaranteed. We can defend their right to talk, and promote their human rights by talking about them globally, by sharing stories and by being prepared to organise solidarity events and vigils when needed. You can find a local 350.org group to get involved with or consider starting your own if there isn’t one near you here, and sign up to hear more via email here.
Today marks the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, during which time 1.6 billion people (approx. 22% of the world’s population) will be fasting from dawn till dusk.
This month provides the chance to reexamine how we interact with the natural world: Ramadan is the month that the Qur’an was first sent down, therefore Muslims remember the month each year by fasting, remembering Allah and recommitting to following the dictates of Allah as delineated in the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of prophet Muhammad PBUH). Since the Qur’an and Hadith speak often of the need to protect the environment, Ramadan is the perfect time to examine what needs to be done to protect our environment.
Since the Paris agreement was signed in December 2015, the threats of climate change have become even more clear. Climate impacts are taking us into uncharted territory in terms of floods, forest fires, heatwaves, storms and drought. 2016 was the hottest year in recorded history, the polar ice sheets have both seen dire events this year, and super storms have ravaged communities across the planet.
The threat from climate change has never been more real, and more present adding urgency for climate action. And we know what needs to be done: keep fossil fuels in the ground and commit to 100 % renewable energy. We urgently need to halt any new fossil fuels projects and phase out existing projects in order to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. And this was exactly the message relayed by Islamic leaders in the lead up to the Paris conference in 2015.
Where we are seeing climate action and leadership is in many communities worldwide rising to lead the transition away from fossil fuels.
Around the world, the fight for a just transition away from fossil fuels is being waged on the grassroots level from Kenya to Belarus, the Philippines to Brazil, Chile to Indonesia and beyond. In Kenya, Green Sun Cities are campaigning to get Nairobi’s universities to use 100% renewable energy. In South Africa, the African Climate Reality Project is urging the city of Johannesburg to transition to renewable energy as well. The year-old Global Muslim Climate Network as part of the Clean Energy Mosques Campaign is calling on Mosques across the world to take concrete measures to reduce energy consumption and go fossil-free. These efforts show us how everyday people are taking on climate action at the local level to make a difference.
Whether or not someone is a Muslim fasting for Ramadan, this month is an opportunity for us to be together, and an invitation to focus on reflection and spiritual growth, forgiveness, patience and resilience, and unity across communities as we continue our fight against climate change.
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“Taking part in this collective action restored some hope in each of us.” — Mathieu Munsch on taking part in Break Free 2016.
There are few better ways to build hope than taking action together. Following hot on the heels of 280 amazing actions as part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation, take a look at this packed calendar of climate camps and collective actions coming up this summer.
It’s going to be creative, courageous, and beautiful — and it’s already begun with the Lausitzcamp cycle tour across the Rhineland coalfields and the climate camp near Vienna, Austria.
With the Global Divestment Mobilisation, we showed that it’s unacceptable for our institutions to invest in fossil fuels. And this summer, the climate movement will be organising to challenge major fossil fuel projects directly. These are our red lines in action. In Paris, the climate movement committed to organise to keep fossil fuels in the ground, even if our governments would not — and it’s happening.
Lausitzcamp on Tour, Lusatia coalfields, Germany/Poland, May 21-28
The big Ende Gelände actions are in the Rhineland coalfields this year, but resistance has been taking place in Lusatia, too. A cycle ride is happening now, May 21-28, through the mining region in Germany and Poland, camping and visiting local anti-coal initiatives on the way, connecting the dots and growing the movement.
Schöner Tour-Auftakt. Wir freuen uns auf ereignisreiche Tage. pic.twitter.com/XHjYIfOaTL
— Lausitzcamp (@lausitzcamp) May 22, 2017Klimacamp, Enzersdorf an der Fischa (near Vienna), Austria, May 24-28
In February, the Austrian courts decided that the third runway at the airport Vienna must not be built, because it is in direct opposition to emission reduction goals. However, many Austrian politicians are still in favour of the airport expansion. At the camp, there are workshops and talks, and tomorrow (May 27) there’ll be a creative action against the expansion of the airport – you can follow the news on facebook and twitter.Mass climate civil disobedience action in the port of Amsterdam, Netherlands, Saturday June 24
Something is brewing in the Western harbour of Amsterdam, the world’s largest gasoline harbour and Europe’s second largest coal port. Code Rood, a new coalition, calls for a massive civil disobedience action in and around the Port of Amsterdam. People power will draw a red line against the fossil fuel industry. There will also be a climate action camp from Thursday June 22 to Monday June 26.
(NB. This video contains flashing lights)
Limity jsme my movement (We are the limits) is organising the very first climate camp in the Czech Republic. The camp is taking place June 21-25 in the North-bohemian mining region, by the town of Most. It will be an opportunity to learn, share experience, have fun protesting and to non-violently disrupt the operation of one of the nearby mines or power-plants. There will be buses going from Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia (get in touch to find out more). For more information see the webpage and facebook page.Rolling resistance in Lancashire, UK, July 1-30
Works have started to prepare the first commercial fracking site in the UK at Preston New Road in Lancashire. This summer, Reclaim the Power will be mobilising and supporting people to join the incredible local resistance efforts in the ‘Rolling Resistance’ for the whole month of July. Join a mass demo, build your own blockade or help making the tea – everyone is welcome.Climate Camp Sweden, August 3-7
The climate movement in Sweden is joining forces against new fossil fuel development, to help Sweden reach its ambition of becoming a fossil free country. This August 3-7, Fossil Free Sweden, Friends of the Earth, Nature and Youth Sweden and the local campaign group Fossilgasfällan are organising a climate action camp near Gothenburg, the site for a new proposed gas terminal.
There will be workshops and discussions exploring the issue of fossil fuel infrastructure in Sweden and the Baltics, trainings to skill up for an exciting collective action during the camp, and planning of future organising to build solutions to the climate crisis.Climate camp in France, August 4-15
After the success of last summer’s camp, plans for the next climate camp in France are being made right now. Save the dates and keep an eye out for updates.Action Camp in Belgium, August 10-15
An action camp will take place near Hoge Rielen (Kasterlee), from August 10-15. It will focus on energy, climate and social justice. The camp will feature action trainings, workshops around “energy justice” and there will be an action on Monday, August 14. Save the date.Ende Gelande & climate camp, Rhineland, Germany, August 18 – 29
Right on the edge of some of the nastiest coal mines in Europe, near Cologne, there will be another climate camp this year, as well as a mass action of civil disobedience (Ende Gelände) to block the mine infrastructure. There will be a red line action around the Hambach Forest, too. And lots more! The camp, August 18 – 29, will be a space for networking, education, arts and actions, and trying out tomorrow’s society right now – social, ecological and based on grassroots democracy.
There is an amazing amount of variety and creativity across each of these events, but each one of the camps and actions this summer has a common goal: to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
If we keep organising like this, a historic shift in our energy system is in sight. I hope you can be a part of it.
PS. Do you have info or actions to add to this list? Get in touch
In the past few years, reactionary politicians across the world have been seizing power with the backing of fossil fuel interests. One of those politicians, Donald Trump, is contemplating attacking international climate action by taking the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Since the Paris agreement was signed, the threats of climate change have become even more clear. 2016 was the hottest year in recorded history (followed by runners-up 2015 and 2014), the polar ice sheets have both seen dire events this year, and superstorms have ravaged communities across the planet.
Backing away from climate action now is immoral, economically counter-productive, and politically foolish.
Here are all the signs of hope that show climate justice is a goal we can achieve — if world leaders commit to serious action, and we stay in the streets demanding it.
Global carbon emissions have stopped growing — now we need to make them decline.
The amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere worldwide has stopped increasing without an economic recession for the first time since records started being kept. It’s not enough to stop the crisis from intensifying, but it’s a sure sign that we can make real and meaningful progress.
Major mobilisations keep happening.
The day after the Paris Agreement was signed, tens of thousands of people were in the streets of Paris telling governments to keep their promises and go even further. That next May there was a wave of escalated actions where tens of thousands of people took the fight directly to coal, oil and gas infrastructure as part of Break Free 2016. And already in 2017 200,000 people marched in record heat in Washington DC and sister marches across the US to demand climate justice in the Peoples Climate March, and hundreds of Global Divestment Mobilisation actions across the globe pushed for divestment from the fossil fuel companies that are wrecking our future.
Coal is in free fall.
The number of planned coal plants worldwide is down by 2/3rds, thanks most of all to a wave of cancellations across Asia. The study that came up with that 2/3rds number is outdated by now too — India just cancelled 14GW worth of planned coal plants, and South Korea’s new government pledged to shut down existing plants and review plans for new ones.
The United Kingdom, which started burning coal in the 1700s managed to use zero coal power for an entire day earlier this year. There’s still a long way to go for the UK to meet its climate goals, but it goes to show that even the mightiest industries can indeed be dethroned.
Electric cars keep switching on, and combustion engines keep turning off.
The government of India says they want every car on the road to be electric powered by 2030, and a new study by a researcher at Stanford University concluded that every new car, truck or bus sold in the year 2025 could be electric powered.
More money is moving out of the fossil fuel industry.
The campaign to divest from coal, oil and gas companies reaches new peaks every year. In 2016, we identified hundreds of investors worth over $5 trillion dollars in total that had moved some or all of their money out of the immoral industry that is wrecking our future. And the momentum hasn’t stopped since then.
China’s emissions are decreasing as investment in solar increases.
The United States is the country that has polluted the most over history, but China is the country with the highest annual emissions — for now. A big investment in solar energy and a reduction of coal pollution means that their annual emissions declined for 3 years running.
Scientists are angry, and they are getting organized.
The March for Science on April 22nd turned into a historic global march to take science seriously. 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change, and hundreds of thousands of people marched together to defend that truth, and the value of science to lead us to a better world.
Solar and wind energy now employ more people in the US than coal and gas — and almost 10 million people worldwide.
In fact, the coal industry employs about as many people as the fast food chain Arby’s, while the solar energy industry created more jobs than the coal industry employed in total in 2016. That’s a sign that the economic winds are shifting.
The world’s most climate vulnerable countries are leading the way to 100% renewable energy.
Fiji, Ethiopia and Costa Rica are just three of the more than 47 countries that face the worst impacts of climate change that have pledged to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources. That’s real ambition from the countries that have done the least to cause the problem — and shows the need for the most responsible countries to increase their commitments to action, not back away.
The threat from climate change has never been more real, and more present. But the excuses for inaction are also wearing thin. We have the tools we need to fix this problem, if we can keep the fossil fuel industry from corrupting the institutions that are supposed to protect us from climate change.
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From farm to table and bank to boardroom, businesses are leading the way on climate action. Only a day after 150 New Yorkers took their voices to Trump Tower to call on New York leaders to #DivestNY pensions from fossil fuels, business and finance leaders convened a panel on divestment and reinvestment. As major oil companies struggle to break even, financial institutions and businesses are playing a key role in a responsible transition away from fossil fuels to a new sustainable economy built for all. Businesses are betting on climate action and calling on the New York pension funds to join them to divest from the past and invest in the future.
New York businesses have been feeling the effects for years. Mary Cleaver, founder of the The Cleaver Company and The Green Table at Chelsea Market, discussed the impacts climate change has had on her business and what she is doing to cut carbon emissions across the supply chain, “The food industry is $750B industry from farm to fork. Storms and radical temperature changes have huge impacts on the agricultural system. The entire stone fruit crop in the Hudson valley in the 2016 season was terribly affected by very, very warm temperatures in April and then very cold temperatures that destroyed all of the fruit. In previous years, flooding from Irene and Superstorm Sandy were both terribly destructive for our region.” Cleaver noted that the best way the food industry can cut emissions and serve the healthiest, tastiest food possible, is to source it locally. It’s a win-win for New Yorkers.
NY State Comptroller DiNapoli and NY City Comptroller Stringer have said that their primary concern is the health of their pension funds, and that they believe divestment would violate their fiduciary duty to maximize the long-term value of the fund through profitable investments. They have also said that they will continue to engage with the companies to change their behavior.
Panelists addressed these issues head on. Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management, a firm that has offered fossil free investment products for 35 years said, “There is no evidence of an increase in volatility and there is no evidence of any sacrifice in return. Period. End of story. The storyline of why it is going to be so expensive and why it would cost in return is mostly from facts that are using old data or using ridiculous assumptions about managing the money a different way.”
One after another, speakers noted where you put your money matters. Amalgamated Bank was one of the first banking institutions to divest from fossil fuels and commit to not financing fossil fuel infrastructure. First Vice President, Sustainability Banking, Ivan Frishberg noted, “When you walk into a bank and put your money in your deposit, it doesn’t just there. The bank makes good use of that money and lends it back out. You can go and lend it to the Dakota Access pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners or you can lend it affordable housing or to a B-Corp business. One of those things helps your community. One of those things is going to help mitigate climate risk long term. The other set of choices are going to totally screw us.”
— Amalgamated Bank (@AmalgamatedBank) May 10, 2017
Patsky later added, “Fiduciary duty is for providing for the beneficiaries… You have to explain to me how it is that you could ignore the environment into which those retirees are entering. Is the water they are going to be drinking clean? Is the air breathable? And how that can’t be factored into if you’re honoring your fiduciary duty to the retirees of the City of NY and State of NY. I don’t understand how that’s disconnected.”
Less than a week later at a city wide Accountability Forum on Climate, Jobs and Justice where 600 New Yorkers attended to hear from the Mayor (who was unable to attend), the Public Advocate and the Comptroller, Stringer said that his concerns for the future of the 715k pensioners he is responsible for protecting “keeps him up at night”. This begs the question if a safe and sustainable future free from climate chaos is among those future concerns. If so, Stringer has an easy night’s sleep within arms reach. Cutting ties with industries, whose business models are centered on extraction and destruction of our communities and our collective future, is the first step.
These business leaders added the voice to the growing number of New York institutions that are moving away from risky coal, oil and gas companies. With churches divesting (most recently New York’s iconic Riverside Church), 2 state bills pushing for divestment of the state pension funds and NY public universities and other universities take more strides to cut their ties with climate deniers and fossil fuel companies, isn’t it time for New York City and State leaders to proactively act and stop investing in fossil fuels and reinvest in our communities, making NY stronger and more resilient in the face of extreme weather events?
Both comptrollers believe that ‘shareholder engagement’ will fix the climate problems caused by the likes of Exxon. We know that engagement has no track of success leading to tangible change at an oil and gas company. As more and more businesses take action, it’s time for the talk and spin to stop.
Over the course of a week of over 260 actions spread across 46 countries, New Yorkers continued to bring the heat on NYC Comptroller Stringer and NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to divest New York’s $350 billion pensions from the fossil fuel companies driving climate chaos. The grassroots DivestInvest movement has blossomed into a mainstream financial movement that is capable of moving entire economies. That’s why we not only call for divestment, but also call for investment – to build our communities to be just, equitable and resilient, to create jobs, and to save the planet.
Sign the petition asking Comptrollers Stringer and DiNapoli to DivestNY and be the climate leaders we need them to be.