Climate Refugees

Corporate Power, State Violence, and Land Defenders

The activities of corporations exacerbate the critical need for a rapid phase out of fossil fuels amid estimates that the world’s clean energy investment needs are $2.4 trillion per year up to 2035.325 Yet the largest banks and corporations have unacceptably poor performance on human rights, particularly Indigenous rights, as it relates to the impacts of specific fossil fuel projects and the climate crisis in general. There is no shortage of examples: from the Indigenous-led opposition to each of the three major proposed tar sands oil pipelines in North America, to the fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under threat from drilling, to German utility RWE’s plans to expand an open-pit lignite coal mine while destroying the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest. Each of these highlight that banks lack effective energy and human rights policies to prevent them from financing these highly troubling projects and the companies behind them. 

When it comes to fighting such fossil financing, the stakes of climate activism become especially clear. According to the international environmental organization Global Witness, 2017 saw a total of 207 killings of environmental activists, or defenders. That’s more than 2016, making 2017 the deadliest year on record. Agribusiness had the most deaths associated with it, with a reported 46 activists killed in disputes over large-scale agriculture projects.326 Agribusiness was followed by the oil and mining industry, which has historically been the most dangerous field for activists, with 40 killings. Poaching and logging were tied for third with 23 reported deaths each. There is an obvious asymmetry of power between agribusinesses and their political backers on one side and Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, and other marginalized communities on the other.

  • 325. Rainforest Action Network, “Banking on Climate Change: 2019.”
  • 326. In agribusiness, one particularly controversial plant is the oil palm. Forests have been felled to make room for palm oil plantations, and the edible oil is in about half of all packaged supermarket products, from chocolate, margarine, and ice cream to shampoo and lipstick. Other crops that have contributed to land disputes include coffee, sugar, and fruit, such as bananas and pineapples. Mining and logging, which are still dangerous fields for environmental defenders, contribute to products from electronics to furniture.