• 06.21.16

2015 Was Officially The Deadliest Year Ever For Environmental Activists

185 people fighting to protect the environment from logging, agriculture, and mining were murdered last year.

2015 Was Officially The Deadliest Year Ever For Environmental Activists
Illustration: LoraSiverina via Shutterstock

These are not good times to be campaigning to protect the environment, especially in countries governed by repressive regimes and powerful corporate interests.


Killings of environmental activists around the world have been on the rise for several years, as Co.Exist reported on a piece about this year’s death of Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, who was shot in her home in March.

A new report from the organization Global Witness says that trend is continuing to get worst. Last year, it says, had the most killings of environmental activists since it started tracking over the last decade, averaging to more than three activists killed every week around the world in campaigns related to mining, agribusiness, logging, and hydropower. Indigenous activists–who often stand up to powerful development interests in relatively remote regions–have it the worst, representing 40% of those killed. Brazil (50 deaths), the Philippines (33), Colombia (26), Peru (12), and Nicaragua (12), and the DRC (11) are particular hot spots.

Global Witness documents 185 known deaths, a nearly 60% increased from 2014. While they believe their tally is as good as it gets, killings in remote regions often go unscrutinized and unreported. They believe the actual tally is likely much higher.

Campaigner Billy Kyte attributes the growing death toll to increased global demand for natural resources, including timber, palm oil, and minerals. “Communities that take a stand are increasingly finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers,” he says in a press statement.


The group says that governments must do more to protect activists, investigate crimes that occur, tackle corruption, and acknowledge the land rights of indigenous communities. In the case of Cáceres, some U.S. House members have introduced legislation that would suspend the planned $18 million in military assistance that the U.S. plans to send the Honduran government this year, until the government investigates human rights violations from its police and military forces. Democracy Now calls the bill “unprecedented” and a step in the right direction.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.