(Published by Brent Patterson on PBI Canada)

COPINH tweet: The image of Lenca environmental rights defender Berta Caceres was projected on a building in Glasgow during the COP26 summit last year. Caceres was killed in March 2016, just months after the COP21 summit in Paris.

The United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 27 talks will be taking place this coming November 6-18 in Egypt.

The UN Human Rights Council has affirmed that “human rights defenders, including environmental human rights defenders, must be ensured a safe and enabling environment to undertake their work free from hindrance and insecurity, in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

But at COP26 in Scotland last year, Global Witness highlighted that 1,005 land and environmental rights defenders had been killed since the Paris Agreement was reached at the COP21 summit in December 2015.

And Tla’amin land defender Ta’Kaiya Blaney stated: “My land and waters are under the genocidal illegal occupation of the Canadian government, resource extraction industries and international corporations that are bleeding us dry of our birthright, the salmon, the cedars, the soil. Myself and all my relatives here have been criminalized, surveilled and experienced violence at the hands of the police, the hands of RCMP and injunctions issued by colonial governments to remove us from our lands when we get in the way of profits.”

And yet the 71-point draft text that emerged from COP26 made no reference to land and environmental rights defenders.

Two weeks ago, Global Witness published a report that documented that another 200 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2021.

We express our concern that defenders continue to be attacked despite their vital work protecting the environment and fighting climate change.

Many others are highlighting this concern in the context of COP summits.

Last year, 19 organizations, including PBI-UK, signed this letter in the lead-up to COP26 that urged governments around the world to: “Strengthen protection arrangements for environmental human rights defenders, through measures such as protection grants, amnesties and funding for rapid response emergency mechanisms.”

Fridays for Future has also demanded: “Stop the violence and criminalization against indigenous peoples, small farmers, small fisherfolk, and other environmental and land defenders. Support the work they do. Respect and listen to our defenders.”

And 100+ organizations at the Global Women’s Assembly for Climate Justice called “on all governments to immediately halt the criminalization of land defenders, whose efforts are central to a climate-just world.”

Concerns about COP27

Last year, Blaney also stated: “COP26 is a performance, it’s an illusion constructed to salvage capitalist economies rooted in resource extraction and colonialism. I didn’t come here to fix the agenda I came here to disrupt it. Colonialism is what caused climate change and I’m not going to my colonizers for solutions.”

This year, concerns have been expressed about the summit taking place in Egypt. UN Special Rapporteurs recently highlighted: “Arrests and detention, NGO asset freezes and dissolutions and travel restrictions against human rights defenders have created a climate of fear for Egyptian civil society organizations to engage visibly at the COP27.”

And it has been lamented that Coca-Cola – which has been implicated in the killing of trade unionists in Colombia – is a sponsor of the summit.

PBI webinars

Last year, PBI organized this webinar on COP26 with Nelly Madegwa (Kenya), Sandra Calel (Guatemala), Danilo Rueda (Colombia), Juana Ramona Zuñiga (Honduras), Amaru Ruiz (Nicaragua) and Valeria Villalobos (Mexico). More than 400 people from 17 countries registered to watch this webinar via Zoom.

This year, we will be organizing again.

PBI-UK has already signed this joint letter that cautions the transition to a decarbonized economy must uphold human rights. The letter states: “[There have been] at least 369 attacks on human rights, labour and environmental defenders around the world since 2015, including 98 killings, related to renewable energy projects, and 148 attacks, among them 13 killings, related to transition minerals mining.”

Stay tuned for updates in the coming days about our webinar tentatively scheduled for Tuesday November 15.