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Global Witness reports a record number of environmental campaigners were killed last year

September 15, 2021, 10:25 AM UTC

A record number of environmental activists were murdered last year, according to human rights group Global Witness, which published its latest annual count on Monday. The group, which uses publicly available data to compile its list, says at least 227 campaigners were killed in 2020—a record figure for the second year in a row.

The death count tallied by Global Witness is a reminder of how people living in poorer, disadvantaged communities suffer most from climate change—or even for fighting against it. All but one of the 227 deaths recorded by Global Witness took place in the poorer “global south,” with Colombia accounting for the highest number of killings (65) for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile indigenous people, who make up 5% of the global population, accounted for a third of the victims reported by Global Witness.

“The rest of us need to realize that the people killed each year defending their local places are also defending our shared planet—in particular our climate,” says U.S. environmentalist Bill McKibben in a foreword to the report, adding that “the activities that flood our atmosphere with carbon—fossil fuel extraction and deforestation—are at the heart of so many of these killings.”

Nearly a third of the 227 reported deaths were related to resource exploitation, as the activists campaigned to preserve rainforests and rivers against logging, agricultural expansion and dam developments. As McKibben writes, these victims become “at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding.”

Although scores of corporations have pledged to be more mindful of the environmental impact of their activities and vowed to pursue sustainable growth paths, pursuing “sustainable growth” doesn’t necessarily mean reducing demand for resources. More likely, competition for scarce resources—like clean water and arable land—will increase as climate change reduces the volume of resources available. That increased competition will bring greater risk to communities defending land, unless corporations truly do more to ensure their operations value all stakeholders.

Speaking of corporate pledges, on September 28, Fortune will convene its second Global Sustainability Forum. The one-day virtual conference will focus on how companies can move “from pledge to practice” and ensure businesses meet the ambitious—but vital—climate goals many of them have promised.

You can register for the event here.

More below.

Eamon Barrett
eamon.barrett@fortune.com

CARBON COPY

Distressed

The Guardian has a long read on what happened when Wall Street went in on mountain top coal mining in Appalachia, first funding polluting quarry developments and then—when that proved unprofitable—snatching up flailing coal mines, where they cut employee health care payments to save costs. Bankers didn’t make much money from the deals, but the Appalachian communities suffered most. The transition to net zero will produce more distressed and stranded assets, particularly projects and infrastructure built around fossil fuels. How corporations wind them down or pass them on will be vital to watch. Guardian

Divest

Last week, Harvard University effectively said it would divest its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuels, stating it “does not intend” to invest in future fossil projects and would wind down existing investments. Harvard joins the ranks of a few prestigious universities that have pledged to divest from fossils after previously resisting student calls to do so. However, not all environmental campaigners are happy with the plan and argue that divestment sacrifices Harvard’s ability to pressure its portfolio companies to adopt reforms. NYT

Methane

“Carbon” is a useful shorthand for greenhouse gas emissions, but the reductive phrase can divert attention away from the other pollutants fizzing into our atmosphere—among them, methane, which absorbs heat more readily than carbon dioxide does. At the COP26 climate meeting in November, U.S. President Biden plans to unveil a “global methane pledge,” which the EU already supports, calling for countries to slash methane emissions 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. Bloomberg

Farming

The UN says countries need to reform the $540 billion in global farming subsidies, arguing that current practices subsidize the most polluting forms of agricultural production. According to a report the UN released Monday, subsidies provide some 15% of agriculture’s global production value, and the figure is on trend to increase from $540 billion today to $1.8 trillion by 2030. FT

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Europe’s ambitious net-zero pledges hit home—with eye-watering energy bills by Sophie Mellor

Chevron stops short of sharp emissions reductions despite investor rebuke by Katherine Dunn

China vows to consolidate its bloated electric vehicle industry—and its ‘Big Three’ are poised to benefit by Eamon Barrett

Why does the ‘return to work’ make us so uneasy? by Tim Jackson

To build back better, we need better data about the developing world by Peter Blair Henry

NYSE’s new investment vehicle—‘natural asset companies’—will tap into ESG fever by Declan Harty

CLOSING NUMBER

30%

The yield of staple crops may decline 30% by 2050 as climate change exacerbates global droughts, unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced in the next ten years, think tank Chatham House warns. In a report prepared for the COP26 summit, Chatham House says the proportion of global farmland plagued by drought could triple to 32% by mid-century. Yet, growing global demand for food will require farmers to increase production by 50% over the same period. The result is going to be higher food prices in richer parts of the world, and severe shortages in poorer regions.

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