EJAtlas – Mapping Socio-Environmental Conflicts Around the World

  • The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) monitors and maps the distribution of socio-environmental conflicts in the World
  • Over 2,500 identified conflicts are currently mapped
  • EJAtlas was launched in 2012 and is co-directed at the ICTA-UAB by Leah Temper and Joan Martínez-Alier

What is EJAtlas?

The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas), created by researchers of the ICTA-UAB, is an initiative created to monitor the distribution of ecological conflicts in the world. It includes over 2,500 cases of identified conflicts over the World. EJAtlas, which could also be called “the atlas of socio-environmental injustices and conflicts”, covers an increasing number of disputes over the World. A huge growth is being experienced in China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all large countries which until recently had no local collaborators.

Snapshot from EJAtlas showing India, the country with the highest number of registered conflicts.
Snapshot from EJAtlas showing India, the country with the highest number of registered conflicts.

Since its launch in 2012, the EJAtlas is co-directed at the ICTA-UAB by Leah Temper and Joan Martínez-Alier, and being coordinated by Daniela De Bene. Its objective is to create a comprehensive registry of socio-environmental conflicts around the world. Professor Martinez-Alier received in year 2016 an Advanced Grant (2M Euros) from the European Research Council to continue the project during the period 2016-2021. This has allowed to expand on the previous FP7 project EJOLT (Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade), creating the new project, entitled EnvJustice, A Global Movement for Environmental Justice: The EJAtlas. Importantly, the atlas also includes the support of the project Acknowl-EJ (2016-18), 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 2015 paper by Leah Temper, D. Del Bene and J. Martinez-Alier, “Mapping the frontiers and front lines of global environmental justice: the EJAtlas”, published in the Journal of Political Ecology.

New cases identified are added to the Interactive Atlas, generating a related report on the conflict. At the same time, this global inventory allows creating a variety of maps using filters which allow, for instance, to detect those conflicts classified as the most serious. Dr Martínez-Alier highlights that it should not be overlooked that indicators of the degree of seriousness of environmental conflicts relate directly to the impact on lives of the local populations. This impact can range from pollution or other kind of damage, to, in the extreme cases, assassination of activists opposing a specific project.

Particular cases

EJAtlas allows conducting state-wide analyses, but the information it contains is even more interesting for cross-state thematic studies. Relatedly, several pre-filtered thematic maps are available to be browsed through. The available data, shows Dr. Martinez-alier, allows to notice some interesting trends.

For instance, one can find that the types of environmental conflicts in South America most often relate to mining, fossil fuel extraction, deforestation or land grabbing. By contrast, in Spain, where over 70 conflicts are reported yet, conflicts relate rather to the disposal of residues, to infrastructure building projects, to tourism pressure and its consequences, and to issues relating to nuclear power.

Detailed profiles are available: snapshot of the information available about the spillage at Aznalcóllar, Sevilla, April 1998
Detailed profiles are available: snapshot of the information available about the spillage at Aznalcóllar, Sevilla, April 1998

Using the inn-built filters, the atlas allows users to identify cases in which opposition to a project (mines, dams, palm oil plantations, incineration plants, etc.) was successful. In such cases, opposition managed to overturn a particularly damaging project, with the State perhaps even implementing regulations to act as counter-incentives for similar projects. The map includes at least 360 success cases, corresponding to 17% of total registries, the majority of which are located in South America, with close to 100 cases, and Western Europe, over 60.

In connection with the controversial subject of nuclear energy, related conflicts have been on the rise across Europe and other parts of the World. As nuclear power plants gradually age, their operation entails higher risks; alas, sustained economic interests prevent them from being shut down definitively. In Japan, for instance, as an aftermath to the notorious Fukushima disaster, numerous people have demostrated against the reopening of close to fifty nuclear power plants which had been shut down after the accident of year 2011.

There are also increasingly cases in which opposition to mining and coal burning or the extraction of oil and gas is linked not only to a local environmental threat, but also to the awareness of climate change caused by the excess of carbon dioxide emissions. Dr. Martínez-Alier also highlights conflicts related to sand extraction in order to obtain ilmenite (raw material for titanium), rutile and zirconium. Several of these kinds of conflicts were reported in Madagascar, South Africa and the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, these are matters even the co-director was unaware of in 2012. Undoubtedly, many more exist.

The co-director of the project points out that gas fracking – an activity consisting of extracting natural gas from non-conventional sites – is one of the newest issues. This issue is quite recent, and was something hardly talked about when the EJAtlas was presented in public for the first time in March 2014 (then including only some 920 entries). Connectin to this, stater Martínez-Alier, “the increase and change in social metabolism are main driver causes of conflict”. This suggests that the changes resulting from emerging economic and social realities potentially result in the appearance of antagonistic interests; and from them, possible conflicts.

There have been identified at least 260 cases in which environmental activists have been killed; the majority of them, in Latin America and Southern and South East Asia. Martínez-Alier, however, 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 fatalities may have occurred. The mapping will continue, with the help of the increasing network of collaborators, and hopefully will make EJAtlas the thorough source of information it aims to be.

Image credits:

Snapshots of the Environmental Justice Atlas from India and from the Aznalcollar tailings dam failure were manually taken from the user interface of EJ Atlas.