Praise for Pioneering Proposal is Mixed with Concerns by Indigenous Groups Over New Drilling Planned in Southern Ecuador’s Pristine Rainforests
Quito, Ecuador – Ecuador plans to sign an agreement today with the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) that will open an international trust fund to receive donations supporting the government’s proposal to keep some 900 million barrels of oil in the ground. The heavy crude is found in three oil reserves beneath the fragile Yasuni National Park – the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT). Three tumultuous years in the making, the deal with UNDP finally spares a significant area of the Park from oil drilling. Initial donor countries include Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, and Switzerland which have collectively committed an estimated US $1.5 billion of the US$3.6 billon that the Ecuadorian government seeks
The plan will keep an estimated 410 million tons of C02-the major greenhouse gas driving climate change-from reaching the atmosphere. This precedent of avoided CO2 emissions could factor into future climate negotiations.
In 2007, Ecuador’s President Correa launched the Yasuni-ITT initiative, seeking international financial contributions equaling half of the country’s forgone revenues if the government left Yasuni’s oil reserve untouched. The proposal seeks to strike a balance between protecting the park and its indigenous inhabitants, while still generating some revenue for Ecuador, a country dependent on oil for 60 percent of its exports.
Covering nearly 2.5 million acres of primary tropical rainforest at the intersection of the Andes and the Amazon close to the equator, Yasuni is the ancestral territory of the Huaorani people, as well as two other indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane. As a result of its unique location, Yasuni is an area of extreme biodiversity, containing what are thought to be the greatest variety of tree and insect species anywhere on the planet. In just 2.5 acres, there are as many tree species as in all of the US and Canada combined.
“We welcome this long sought after final step to protect an important part of Yasuni National Park,” said Kevin Koenig, Amazon Watch Ecuador Coordinator who has been closely monitoring the initiative since its inception. “This is a big win for Ecuador, and the world. Now we need more countries to contribute, and for President Correa to keep his word.”
The landmark proposal was an uncertain three years in the making, and on several occasions appeared dead in the water. From the outset, the government insisted on a one-year deadline to raise close to $4.5 billion, which was viewed as an impossibility by potential donors and undercut the proposal’s perceived viability. Political turnover led to three different Foreign Affairs ministers and three distinct negotiating teams, while the government implemented seemingly contradictory environmental policies that continued to allow drilling inside the park and expanded mining concessions throughout the Amazon. Correa’s public rebuke of his negotiating team after the Copenhagen Climate Summit were the trust fund was originally set to be signed, led to the resignation of the entire team as well as the Foreign Minister and confidant, Fander Falconi.
But Ecuador’s civil society organizations, as well as the Huaorani themselves, kept the proposal alive by pressuring the government and continuing to increase the proposals popularity nationally and internationally. The environmental organization, Accion Ecologica with its “Amazon For Life” campaign collected tens of thousands of signatures of support and kept the initiative in the news during times when the government’s commitment appeared to wane. The Huaorani continued to raise their voices on the importance of the park, the perils of oil extraction, and the need to keep out extractive industries from areas where the nomadic Tagaeri and Taromenane are present.
Although there is cause for celebration, some of Ecuador’s indigenous groups are concerned by the Correa administration’s announcement this week to open up areas of Ecuador’s roadless, pristine southeastern Amazon region, as well as re-offering older oil blocks that were unsuccessful due to indigenous resistance.
“We hope that the success of the Yasuni proposal doesn’t mean a defeat for the forests and people of the southern rainforests,” said German Freire, President of the Achuar indigenous people who have land title to almost 2 million acres of intact rainforest, all of which would be opened to new drilling. “We don’t want Correa to offset his lost income from leaving the ITT oil in the ground by opening up other areas of equally pristine indigenous lands.”