[Infographic] Why are environmental defenders under attack?

Every week, four people are killed because they defend nature. Moreover, these attacks against environmental defenders have increased year after year. But why is this happening? To explain the situation, we developed an infographic.

Header photo: Infographic © IUCN NL

“The graphic maps out the underlying causes of this increasing violence against conservationists,” says Liliana Jauregui. “Basically, it is driven by the increasing global demand for natural resources.”


This is how it works: the growing world population with increasing consumption creates an increasing demand for raw materials, such as minerals, timber and palm oil, which are often extracted in an unsustainable way. In countries rich in natural resources, there is an increasing demand for land. “This demand is growing so rapidly, that developers are now starting to enter pristine natural areas”, Jauregui points out. “Conservationists are putting a stop to this. These people want to protect their land, forest and water against these  destructive industries. But in doing so, they find themselves in the frontline of the battle.”

Enabling factors

On top of this, we identified enabling factors that allow these dynamics to exist. Often, land rights are poorly acknowledged. In those cases, it is unclear that the land belongs to the indigenous community, making it difficult for them to claim their rights. “But even when rights are  in place, this does not guarantee any certainty for the community”, Jauregui explains. “Companies often bribe corrupt governments to gain access to the protected area. Or governments simply adjust the laws whenever they like.”These companies and governments can do this because there is often a high level of impunity in these countries. “They have a relative freedom to violate the legal system and human rights, without facing any real consequences”.

Still committed

So how come these defenders are so committed to continue their battle? “The land is a valuable part of their identity”, Jauregui explains. “It is the place where their ancestors have lived and have taken care of for centuries.” In addition, the community is dependent on their forest for their livelihood: “it provides them with food, water, medicinal herbs and shelter”.

Action required

Over the last few years, IUCN NL has, with support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, been working on improving the safety of environmental defenders. “We need to take action to identify, prevent and convict this violence, and to provide shelter for innocent victims.”

Links & downloads

Learn more?

Liliana Jauregui
Liliana Jauregui
Senior Expert Environmental Justice