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IDRC supports research on protecting rights in a changing climate

IDRC is investing in research to promote inclusive, participatory and accountable governance in the face of climate change. The CAD8.3 million investment supports ten research projects centred on the experiences of climate and environmental human rights defenders across the Global South.
A  Filipino woman speaks into a microphone.
Aileen Dimatatac
Environmental and social groups held protests in Calaca, Batangas, Philippines, in 2016 to stop the proposed expansion of a coal plant.

Climate change poses a serious threat to the lives, livelihoods and human rights of marginalized and excluded populations in the Global South. 

This threat comes not just from the impacts of a warming and changing climate, but also from climate action itself. The societal transformation required to address the climate crisis will impact nearly every level of governance and development. It is therefore crucial that climate policies be developed in an inclusive, participatory and rights-compliant manner. 

Democratic decline and shrinking civic spaces worldwide are limiting people’s ability to claim their rights and participate in decision-making processes that affect them. At the same time, activists working to defend the environment face increasingly higher levels of violence, harassment and threats.  

Global Witness has documented the killing of 1,910 environmental defenders over the past decade. For every one defender killed, many more have reported harassment, unlawful detainment or arrest, defamation suits, surveillance and other actions that silence their voices and undermine their activism. 

IDRC-supported research will generate a better understanding of the nature and drivers of the threats faced by climate and environmental defenders by focusing on their lived experience and identifying effective response strategies. The research is also expected to generate broader lessons on effective ways to counter the closing of civic spaces. 

Using a competitive process, IDRC has identified the following research projects to address the climate emergency and closing civic space.  

Latin America

Promotion and protection of civic space as a strategy of resilience and climate justice in Central America 

The Red de Desarrollo Sostenible de Honduras is working with Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the region to understand their advocacy, context, agency, strategies and capacities, while strengthening women’s participation in, and influence over, just and equitable climate policies. The resulting knowledge on how to support an inclusive, dynamic and safe civic space to advance climate justice in the region will bolster environmental defence and justice work and support inclusive and equitable public participation policies to respond to the climate crisis.  

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Impacts of the development of the lithium industry in Indigenous territories of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile 
Observatorio Ciudadano examines the adverse human rights impacts of lithium extraction on Indigenous peoples and communities in the Andean region known as the Lithium Triangle, comprising 53% of the world’s resources of this metal. The research is identifying, cataloguing and bringing visibility to rights violations tied to lithium extraction and strengthening the capacity of Indigenous peoples’ organizations affected by this growing industry to defend their rights. The resulting recommendations on legislation, public policy and corporate practices will help to ensure the protection of Indigenous defenders’ rights. 
The research is carried out in collaboration with the Center for Legal and Social Studies and Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, Bolivia. 

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Southeast Asia

Guardians under pressure: Southeast Asian Indigenous environmental defenders and civic spaces 

PT Dala Riset Global is studying the lived experiences of Indigenous environmental defenders, their claims to land and how they respond to climate action policies that impact their land-use and rights. Case studies focus on groups engaging with mining, biofuels, carbon sequestration, hydropower and atmospheric haze control in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Together with recommendations related to existing institutional mechanisms that protect defenders, the findings will bolster advocacy efforts and strengthen civic space in the region.  

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Enabling climate action: analysis and recommendations from climate and environmental defenders from the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia 

The Center for Environmental Concerns is investigating the links between climate and environmental defence and shrinking civic spaces nationally and across borders in Southeast Asia. Using participatory methods and case studies, the research aims to develop strategies for the protection of climate defenders in different contexts. The case studies focus on alliance building and risk-mitigation measures — including measures for women environmental defenders — to strengthen the accountability of state and non-state actors and improve protection for climate defenders. 

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Middle East and North Africa

Climate change, land rights and the fight for social and environmental justice in the Arab region 

Policy Initiative is focussing on the lived experiences of those fighting land grabbing —dispossession through large land acquisitions — particularly in Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt. Its assessment covers resistance strategies, legal and institutional processes that facilitate or block land grabbing and the role played by state and non-state actors, including concerned communities, in this process. The project will help to form a long-lasting multidisciplinary network of scholars, practitioners, advocates and policymakers working on just transition and responsible land governance issues.  

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A Green Spring? Environmental activism as a catalyst for social change in the MENA region 

The Arab Reform Initiative and Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis are investigating the different forms, strategies and tactics of environmental activism across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with a focus on Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and Iraq. By mapping and analyzing movements in the region, the research team will provide practical insights on environmental activism, government regulations affecting this mobilization and broader social justice issues. It will also identify measures to strengthen regional networks and alliances advocating for a just environmental transition.  

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East Africa

Researching green activism: how to better protect minority and Indigenous communities, civil society organizations, networks and climate change defenders  

Climate and environmental defenders from minority and Indigenous communities across East Africa face violence, harassment and threats, which prevent them from effectively participating in the development of climate policies. Minority Rights Group aims to understand the intersecting drivers of these threats — including how experiences differ by gender and whether people are part of Indigenous and minority groups — to design effective response strategies and safer advocacy spaces for climate activists. Research in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will help to draw links between defenders and policymakers to facilitate more inclusive and participatory climate action processes.   

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West Africa

Combatting climate change by strengthening the participation of environmental defenders in Liberia 

Local Indigenous communities in Liberia have suffered from human rights violations linked to concessions for palm oil plantations, logging, mining and large agribusiness companies. Green Advocates International is working to assess the threats faced by environmental defenders, including Indigenous defenders, to strengthen their capacity to protect themselves against attacks and harassment. The project will also strengthen defenders’ capacity to engage actively in Liberia’s ongoing customary land formalization process and in the design and implementation of climate action policies.  

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Resistance and resilience: collaborative responses to online attacks on environmental defenders  

The Association for Progressive Communications leads research on the scope and impacts of online disinformation and attacks against environmental defenders, with case studies in Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines. Research teams are documenting attacks on individuals and communities, identifying common trends across case studies and advancing effective strategies to counter online attacks, disinformation and closing civic space online. Their research will generate policy recommendations aimed at national governments and technology companies, and build alliances and momentum for a global policy agenda on this issue. 

This research is being conducted in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples Rights International, the KLIMA Centre of the Manila Observatory and Intervozes. 

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A community of practice for research and impact among environmental defenders 

Asuntos del Sur supports collaboration, knowledge exchange and the development of a joint policy influence strategy across these IDRC-supported research projects addressing the climate emergency and closing civic space. Through workshops, research exchanges, synthesis and impact notes, policy influence strategies and media production, the community of practice is expected to strengthen and amplify the voices of climate and environmental activists and researchers from across the Global South in environmental and climate policymaking.  

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