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A Global Atlas of Environmental Justice
Latinamerica Press
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Interactive map gives visual context to social and environmental conflicts

As part of the European project Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT), an international team of experts coordinated by researchers at Spain’s Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), on March 19 launched the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice, an interactive platform of maps that analyze the trajectories of more than 1,000 environmental conflicts and areas of resistance worldwide. The project’s goal is to have 2,000 registered cases by 2015.

“The Atlas illustrates how ecological conflicts are increasing around the world, driven by material demands fed primarily by the rich and middle class subsections of the global population,” said project director Joan Martínez Alier. “The most impacted are poor, marginalized and indigenous communities. They usually do not have the political power to ensure access to environmental justice and health.”

The Atlas includes environmental conflicts in 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries related to nuclear energy, mineral ores and fossil fuels, waste management, access to land, water management, infrastructure development, tourism, biodiversity conservation, industries and utilities.

It allows users to search and filter the conflicts by type, company, commodity and country.

Regionally, the country with the most conflicts is Colombia (72), followed by Brazil (58), Ecuador (48), Argentina (32), Peru (31) and Chile (30), where the cases primarily relate to mining and fossil fuels. Multinational Brazilian corporation Vale has the highest number of conflicts attributed to it (15) in the region, all dealing with mining and water management; South African company Anglo Gold Ashanti follows suit, with 15 registered conflicts in Colombia alone.

Gold, the great culprit
With regard to commodities, gold mining is the largest source of conflicts, in quantity and intensity. Gold mining firms BHP Billiton (Australia) and Barrick Gold (Canada) are tied to the majority of these conflicts in the region.

However, multinationals aren’t solely responsible for fostering conflicts. State-owned oil companies like Petrobras (Brasil), Ecopetrol (Colombia), PetroEcuador and Petróleos de Venezuela, are also linked to clashes related to oil drilling. Overall, more than 2,000 corporations and financial institutions, both public and private, are involved globally.

“While the map highlights disturbing trends, such as continuing corporate impunity for environmental crimes and the fact that 80 percent of the cases entail a loss of livelihood, it is also inspiring,” according to a statement by EJOLT. “Amidst the stories of environmental devastation, political repression and persecution of activists, many cases of environmental justice victories can be found. Court cases were won, projects were cancelled and sometimes, the commons were reclaimed. 17 percent of the cases in the map are considered environmental justice victories.”

One of the goals of the project — which relied on the participation of 23 universities and environmental justice organizations from 18 countries — is to make information accessible and increase the conflicts’ visibility, while at the same time creating a space for social organizations to connect with other groups working on related issues.

A crucial feature of the project and the Atlas is that grassroots movements for environmental justice are the key for moving towards more just, equitable and less damaging forms of consumption and production, according to EJOLT.

For Atlas coordinator Leah Temper, “Only once communities stand up and say we will no longer be polluted, will governments and companies change their behavior.” —
Latinamerica Press.

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