Supporting Climate Defenders

Guides for Civil Society, Donors, and Support Organizations


Despite their vital contributions to human rights and sustainable development, EHRDs are the most at-risk group of human rights defenders: 59% of all the human rights defenders killed in 2021 worked on defending the land, the environment, and indigenous peoples’ rights. Many more faced increasing waves of violence, stigmatization, smear campaigns, digital attacks, and other violations and abuses of their human rights. Activists and movements working at the intersection of climate and human rights face the protection gap once seen by other EHRDs.

In response, donors and civil society organizations have implemented strategies to help EHRDs confront threats. However, these groups can be siloed from each other, preventing more robust responses to support EHRDs.

Against this backdrop, the Alliance for Land, Indigenous and Environmental Defenders (ALLIED) and the Universal Rights Group, with support from Freedom House and the Lifeline Fund for Embattled Civil Society Organisations, published these two complementary reports and guides to present specific recommendations to donors and international civil society organizations on how to increase support for environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) and climate activists, and contribute to enhancing their protection and safeguarding their work. The reports outline practical recommendations for donors and international civil society organizations to incorporate into their strategies toward protecting and preventing harm to indigenous, environmental, and land defenders.

Key Report Observations


Both EHRDs and climate activists come from diverse backgrounds and settings: women, indigenous defenders, urban activists, children, students, scientists, and rural communities, among many others. Despite this diversity, there is considerable overlap between the work of many human rights defenders, EHRDs, and climate activists. At the same time, many EHRDs defend climate and climate justice and vice versa. The protection of the environment and environmental justice are embedded in the work of many climate activists.


Similar to other human rights defenders, the risks faced by EHRDs and climate activists are influenced by their specific contexts and identities and by the strategies deployed to defend the environment, i.e., defenders who oppose a particular project, for example, tend to face higher risks of violence than those who advocate for general policy changes. As a result, many threats and obstacles are shared between these two constituencies and other human rights defenders who face similar intersecting forms of exclusion, violence, and discrimination. This is particularly evident in the case of women and indigenous peoples. Intersectionality not only increases the vulnerabilities and hence the risks faced by defenders but also acts as a barrier to effectively seeking support.


Notwithstanding the shared traits with other human rights defenders, certain particularities shape the specific risks and hence support needs of EHRDs and climate defenders. For example, EHRDs and climate activists rarely work alone but rather as part of groups – communities, networks, and movements. Because the causes they champion tend to be collective, so are their advocacy strategies, and consequently, the risks and challenges they face typically impact (and target) entire groups. Additionally, many defenders are particularly vulnerable and disproportionately suffer environmental degradation impacts. As a result, their human rights are at risk due to efforts to silence their voices (i.e., violence and repression) and environmental changes. Moreover, defending the environment, EHRDs and climate activists oppose powerful political and economic interests. That often results in threats to their human rights, including their rights to life, integrity, mental health, participation, access to information, and many more.

Strategies to Support EHRDs and Climate Activists:

  1. Increase awareness of the role of climate activists as human rights and environmental defenders.
  2. Place a stronger focus on preventing attacks through strategies that open civic space and have strong environmental protection frameworks which guarantee a safe and enabling context for the defense of the environment. A pressing need of EHRDs within these efforts is the construction of positive narratives around the environmental defense to debunk misconceptions and stigmatizing statements that increase the vulnerabilities they face.
  3. Most EHRDs and climate activists are aware of the concrete obstacles and threats they face, how these should be addressed, and the types of support they need to counter such threats. Thus, at the core of effective support strategies is recognizing that EHRDs must be agents of their protection. This recognition acknowledges that support must be tailored to their specific contexts and identities. At a practical level, it means that organizations should open spaces for meaningful participation and discussion by EHRDs during the design, implementation, and evaluation of all support strategies.
  4. Building resiliency to help EHRDs, including climate activists, identify and address the risks that affect them. This includes:
    • mainstreaming and strengthening collective protection;
    • increasing access to information, including through safe physical and digital spaces and peer exchange spaces;
    • reinforcing digital protection for defenders;
    • addressing the ‘hidden costs’ of environmental and climate defense, including by supporting defenders through funding and capacity building to keep their organizations and communities afloat and cover living and administrative expenses;
    • offering psychological assistance, including emergency professional help;
    • providing legal advice and training to claim their rights, including but not exclusively in cases of criminalization;
    • offering flexible funding to support environmental and climate defense activities as well as to facilitate access to other assistance strategies – such as legal support;
    • strengthening and fostering the creation of networks and alliances as key avenues to increase access to protection and support.
  1. Adopt an intersectional and a gender approach to bolster specific support for and acknowledgment of women defenders.
  2. Promptly respond through flexible schemes to emergencies, namely, to imminent risks to EHRDs’ lives, integrity, and work. Emergency support is most needed for specific areas, including digital security, legal defense, physical protection, psychological wellbeing, and humanitarian aid.
  3. Help EHRDs claim their rights, including justice, reparation, and non-repetition, by training and empowering them and their communities and increasing legal support.
  4. Increase the capacity of existing emergency and non-emergency funds to support to environmental and climate activists. Specific ways to increase capacity include more funding and breaking silos (see below). These comprise shared funds for all defenders, like the Lifeline or Frontline Defenders Fund, and specific funds, like the Natural Justice Emergency Fund and ILC emergency funds, all of which support EHRDs and climate activists.

Recommendations to Increase Outreach and Support Capacity

Meeting the needs of EHRDs and climate activists does not require devising new types of support but rather new forms to disseminate and articulate existing support to assist human rights defenders and to reach the most isolated and at-risk defenders. A key conclusion of both reports is that a fissure prevents effective communication between support organizations, many EHRDs, climate activists, and indigenous and rural defenders. Some recommendations in this regard include:

  1. Increase outreach, share information, and enhance communications to facilitate identification and access to potential sources of support. Local and grassroots organizations and media are effective channels for informing the most isolated EHRDs, as is disseminating information about support resources and the mechanisms to access them in context- and language-appropriate formats.
  2. Make support accessible to EHRDs most in need. To achieve this, simplify application procedures, explain and describe the support offered in simple terms, local languages, and context-appropriate formats, revising lengthy and stringent eligibility requirements and verification processes and de facto barriers (i.e., age and language).
  3. Create and strengthen networks. Networks and coalitions are vital to support EHRDs, their communities, and organizations; they catalyze and channel different forms of solidarity and protection and help identify opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between organizations.
  4. Working through networks and creating effective referral pathways within existing networks and coalitions is an effective way of increasing the capacity to support EHRDs worldwide and reach the most isolated and at-risk defenders. Working through networks includes strengthening local organizations by offering funding and capacity-building and working closely with them. It also includes ensuring that supporting actors’ work and strategies on human rights, environmental defense, climate change, livelihoods, and women’s rights are not siloed but rather interconnected. It may also be necessary to engage with non-traditional supporting actors and create or strengthen two-way relationships with academia, scientists, and the private sector to explore opportunities for increasing support for EHRDs. Finally, effective networking also means ensuring that existing international networks increase coordination and that supporting actors’ (including donors and foundations) strategies on human rights, environmental defense, climate change, livelihoods, and women’s rights are not siloed but rather interconnected.

The next step is for human rights, environmental protection, security, and climate activism funds and organizations to work together in a coordinated way to increase protection for environmental and climate defenders. This may not require creating new funds and structures but rather increasing the capacity of existing ones and devising effective mechanisms for their coordination and collaboration.

The above summary is adapted from URG’s joint briefer announcing publication. For more information on the reports, please contact us at: or