Global Economics

Brazil Is the World’s Most Dangerous Country to Be an Environmentalist


The Tijuca forest near Complexo do Alemao, a group of favelas on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 24, 2013

Photograph by Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

The Tijuca forest near Complexo do Alemao, a group of favelas on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 24, 2013

Taking a stand to protect the environment in a developing country can be a matter of life and death. According to a new report by Global Witness, a London-based watchdog organization, at least 908 environmentalists were killed in action from 2002 to 2013.

The risks seem to be increasing. “Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years before,” the report notes. Those 147 deaths in 2012—the deadliest year for environmental activists to date—were “mostly assassinations of specific individuals or extrajudicial killings in the context of demonstration and protest actions.” The most significant sources of conflict were “opposition to land-grabbing and unfair land ownership, large-scale mining operations, deforestation, illegal logging, and hydroelectric projects.” Violence also arose during protests over water pollution, toxic waste disposal, and drainage of wetlands.

The most deadly country in which to be an environmentalist, in absolute numbers, was Brazil, according to a report. Over the course of a decade, at least 448 activists have been killed in Brazil. Many of them were involved in campaigns to defend local people’s land rights and to oppose illegal logging and mining activities.

Meanwhile, 109 environmental campaigners were killed in Honduras over the past 10 years, making it by far the deadliest country per capita. Sixty-seven were killed in the Philippines; 58 in Peru; and 52 in Columbia. “Competition for access to natural resources is intensifying,” the report notes. “At the same time, more and more ordinary people are finding themselves on the frontline of the battle to defend their environment.”

The number of journalists killed worldwide on assignment is also increasing. In 2013, 70 journalists were killed in the field, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The most deadly country in which to be a journalist was Syria, followed by Iraq and Egypt.

Larson is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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