Putting environmental injustice on the world map

The ground-breaking Environmental Justice Atlas has reached the milestone of 3,000 cases, making it the world’s largest database of ecological conflicts. This vital human and environmental rights tool has become a highly trusted source and resource for researchers, activists, advocates and journalists.

Since it was created in 2014, the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) has grown to become a major tool for communities and activists struggling against environmental injustice, for journalists reporting on environmental conflicts, for policymakers formulating policy responses and for academics studying these conflicts.

As a sign of this success, the project recently reached a major milestone: it now contains over 3,000 cases of resistance to environmental destruction, making it by far the largest such database in the world. An estimated 20% of the cases on the EJAtlas are success stories and this is sometimes partly due to the visibility and connections that working with the EjAtlas brings.

“We collect not only narratives of the conflicts and coded variables for statistical analysis, but also banners, murals, songs in many languages,” explains EJAtlas’s co-director Joan Martinez Alier, emeritus professor of economics and economic history at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “A global movement for environmental justice is being born before our eyes and we are documenting it.”

These struggles include:

This Roma community in Romania were evicted from the centre of Miercurea Ciuc town to live in metal barracks next to a sewage water filtering station.
Photo: Andreea Tanase
  • Campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground around the world, in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania, including Australia
  • Resistance to environmentally destructive and highly polluting fracking practices
  • Roma communities in Europe forced to live not only on the margins of society but on marginal, polluted land
  • Resistance to highly polluting mines by indigenous communities in such diverse places as Brazil, Canada, Sweden and Indonesia. Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by environmental conflicts. They represent an estimated 4% of the world’s population yet are involved in 40% of the cases covered by EJAtlas. They are protagonists in Latin America, Africa, India, the Arctic and elsewhere.

The highly versatile EJAtlas can be navigated by country, continent, corporation, commodity and more. It also contains a powerful search function.

Dangerous times for environmental defenders

In many parts of the world, the growing mobilisation to defend the environment is being met by violence, sometimes from the state and at other times from non-state actors, such as organised crime groups.

An average of three to four people protecting the planet are killed each week, double what it was at the turn of the century, with many cases going unreported. Many more men and women are attacked, harassed or silenced.

“Protecting the earth’s protectors who risk their lives on thousands of frontlines for environmental justice is not only about human rights, it is the right thing to do to preserve the health of the planet we depend on,” emphasises Nick Meynen, policy officer for environmental and economic justice at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which is responsible for raising public awareness of the atlas and disseminating the cases it contains.

Multinational resistance force

The EJAtlas not only documents the mounting local resistance to environmental injustice but the growing transborder movement to collaborate on common environmental issues. “Multinational resistance is sometimes proving to be more powerful than the multinationals that opened an environmental frontline on people’s doorsteps,” observes Meynen.

The EJAtlas is also marked by this spirit of cross-border cooperation. “It is collaborative, meticulous work based on evidence produced by people’s movements and organisations, academic researchers and journalists,” explains the atlas’s coordinator Daniela Del Bene, who is also at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “It is about building research alliances, trust, and ways to pursue engaged academic work.”

Despite these successes, many corporations are undaunted and continue to trash the environment at an alarming rate. If we were to compile a league table of EJAtlas’s worst corporate offenders, it would contain this Top 5: Monsanto, Vale, Chevron, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Shell.

The EJAtlas can help citizens, journalists and politicians identify these offenders and put pressure on them to live up to their social and environmental responsibilities.