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EJAtlas includes 2,100 case studies on socio-environmental conflicts around the globe
The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas), created by researchers of the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), currently includes 2,100 cases of ecological distribution conflicts identified in different parts of the world.
This initiative, which could also be called the atlas of socio-environmental injustices and conflicts, is currently increasing its total number of conflicts registered in China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all large countries which until now had no local collaborators.
The country with the highest number of conflicts is India. Since its launch in 2012, the EJAtlas is co-directed at the ICTA-UAB by Leah Temper and Joan Martínez-Alier, and coordinated by Daniela De Bene. Its objective is to create a registry with all the socio-environmental conflicts existing around the world. In 2016, Professor Martinez-Alier received an Advanced Grant (2M Euros) from the European Research Council to continue the initiative during the 2016-2021 period. This has allowed him to expand on the previous EJOLT (Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade) with this new project entitled EnvJustice (http://www.envjustice.org), A Global Movement for Environmental Justice: The EJAtlas. The atlas also includes the important support of the project Acknowl-EJ (2016-18) (http://acknowlej.org/), Academic-Activist Co-Produced Knowledge for Environmental Justice, directed by Dr Leah Temper at the ICTA-UAB.
"How many ecological distribution conflicts are there in the world? No one knows, but there is no doubt that there are many of them", Dr Joan Martínez-Alier points out. The EJAtlas aims to collect the most significant cases from the past twenty or thirty years through a collaboration methodology involving both academics and activists, as explained in the paper by Leah Temper, D. Del Bene and J. Martinez-Alier (2015), “Mapping the frontiers and front lines of global environmental justice: the EJAtlas.” Journal of Political Ecology 22: 255-278 (http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_22/Temper.pdf). The cases identified are incorporated into the interactive atlas (www.ejatlas.org) and accompanied by a 5 or 6-page informative file on each conflict. At the same time, this global inventory allows creating different maps using a large range of filters which, among other things, make it easy to detect which conflicts are classified as the most serious. Dr Martínez-Alier highlights that one of the indicators of the degree of seriousness of environmental conflicts has to do with the lives of people being violated either due to environmental factors such as contamination or other damages produced by a project, or due to the assassination of activists fighting against a specific project. This was the case of ecologists Teresina Navacilla and Gloria Capitán in two different cases in the Philippines in 2016, and Honduran activist Berta Càceres, also assassinated in 2016 after trying to fight against the construction of a hydroelectric power plant on the Gualcarque River, a vital source of livelihood for the region's indigenous Lenca people.
There are currently 260 cases identified - a little over 12% of those registered - in which "environmental defenders" have been killed (one or more people per case). The majority are found in Latin America and Southern and South-eastern Asia, according to the information included in the EJAtlas. However, Martínez-Alier points out that this data is only partial, due to the fact that the atlas still does not have enough information on other areas of the globe in which similar killings may have occurred. The atlas also allows users to identify successful cases, in which opposition to an investment project (mines, dams, palm oil plantations, incineration plants, etc.) helped to overturn the plan or in which the state legally or administratively decided to implement efficient regulations to act as a disincentive for similar projects. The map includes 360 successful cases, which corresponds to 17% of the total, the majority of which are located in South America, with 95 cases, and Western Europe, with 55 cases.
The co-director of the project points out that gas fracking - an activity which consists in extracting natural gas from non-conventional sites - is one of the newest issues, something hardly talked about when the EJAtlas was presented in public for the first time in March 2014 with a total of 920 conflicts. "The increase and change in social metabolism (set of flows of materials and energy) are the main causes of conflicts". Dr Martínez-Alier also highlights conflicts such as sand extraction in order to obtain ilmenite (raw material for titanium), rutile and zirconium. Several of these types of conflicts have been registered in Madagascar, South Africa and in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, with many more undoubtedly existing. This is a subject even the co-director was unaware of in 2012. There are also new cases in which opposition to mining and coal burning or the extraction of oil and gas is linked not only to a local threat to the quality of air and water, but also to the climate change caused by the excess of carbon dioxide emissions produced by these processes. For example, the Ende Gelände movement in Germany is fighting against the mining of lignite which burns in thermoelectric power stations and which affects climate change. Their actions consist in symbolic and pacifist invasions of lignite mines located in the vicinity of Cologne and Berlin. The EJAltas files contain sections with the names and characteristics of these social actors, the social values they display, and the "repertoires of collective actions" they carry out. The names of private and public companies are also available, which makes it possible to carry out network analyses. Thus, users can see for example that in recent conflicts taking place in Africa and Latin America there is a growing presence of Chinese companies.
Socio-Environmental Situation in Spain
With regard to Spain, the EJAtlas has currently gathered information on 55 environmental conflicts, some of which were facilitated by Ecologists in Action and other environmental organisations. The EJAtlas allows conducting state-wide analyses, although the information it contains is even more interesting for cross-state thematic studies and several thematic maps at global scale have already been presented. In the case of Spain, there are all types of environmental conflicts, but unlike South America, the majority of cases are not related to mining or fossil fuel extraction, or to deforestation and land grabbing, but to the disposal of residues (such as waste burning cement plants) or to public work infrastructures and tourism, as well as nuclear power plants. The latter type of conflict is once again on the rise across Europe thirty or forty years after the conflicts caused by their construction, given that "as the years go by the associated risk of these nuclear plants grows, but the economic interests of the companies prevent them from being shut down for good. This is the case of the plant in Garoña and also that of the Almaraz nuclear plant in Extremadura, which is looked upon with much distrust from Portugal". This problem occurs in other parts of the world and especially in Japan, where numerous people demonstrate against the reopening of some fifty nuclear power stations which were shut down after the accident in 2011 in Fukushima.
Future of EJAtlas
An approximate 350 new conflicts will be added each year ("the average is one per day") and the files of older yet still existing conflicts will be reviewed. The EJAtlas will grow both geographically and thematically until it reaches at least some 3,000 cases. It is already a highly useful research tool and a valuable source of information for academic papers, journalistic reports, PhD theses and books. One of the first articles published was "Is there a global environmental justice movement?", by J. Martinez-Alier, Leah Temper, D. Del Bene, A. Scheidel (2016), J. of Peasant Studies, 43 (3) : 731-755. In advanced preparation is a special section for the journal Sustainability Science with eight to ten articles based on the EJAtlas. According to Dr Martínez-Alier, "the EJAtlas is a project which must continue some ten to fifteen years more at the ICTA-UAB, far beyond what is left of my active years. The atlas permits researchers to conduct comparative qualitative and quantitative studies on political ecology, on particular territories, regions, states, and also cross-state issues, and at the same time serves as a support tool for the global movement for environmental justice being carried out by so many grassroots environmental groups around the world". He affirms that the initiative is not only the result of the efforts of those working on the EJAtlas at the ICTA-UAB, but also of the over 100 collaborators located in different parts of the world.
Among the numerous transversal, "cross-state" subjects under study are the movement of traditional fishermen around the world, the support offered by trade union movements or religious movements (Christian, Buddhist or others) in environmental conflicts, the integration of farming struggles and ecological struggles, different types of urban struggles for environmental justice, local and international opposition to dams, movements to guarantee the health of people affected by agrochemicals, and the defence of mangroves and coastal regions. Another interesting aspect under international study is the cultural manifestations in this global movement for environmental justice, in which the EJAtlas incorporates photographs, demonstration banners in different languages (such as "Plantations Are Not Forests", “Stop Fumigations" and "Water Is More Valuable Than Gold"), as well as newspaper articles, documentaries and songs. An example of this is a song by T.M. Krishna in defence of "community resources" (the Poromboke land) at Ennore Creek in northern Chennai. All of which forms part of the assorted vocabulary of environmental justice.
The UAB inaugurated its new CER ARCTIC research centre, unique in the whole of Spain in this area and innovative in research that is respectful with and to local Arctic communities. Directed by UAB professor Françoise Breton, the centre will focus particularly on the global changes and their impact on the local population.