Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Breaking Ground without Lifting a Shovel: Ecuador's Plan to Leave Its Oil in the Ground

Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Breaking Ground without Lifting a Shovel: Ecuador's Plan to Leave Its Oil in the Ground

Article excerpt

I. SAVING THE YASUNI NATIONAL FOREST
   A. The Yasuni National Forest and the ITT Oilfield
   B. President Correa's Yasuni-ITT Proposal
   C. The Development Context: Drawing Upon the
      Debt-for-Nature Swap Experience
   D. The Environmental Context: Reducing Global
      Carbon Emissions and Protecting the Rain forests

II. AN ALTERNATIVE FOR THE FUTURE?

With a proposal that had been several months in the making, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa stepped in front of a gathering of world leaders, and delivered an address that has the potential to shift existing environmental and development paradigms and provide a new way of thinking about the complex problems of carbon emissions, deforestation, and foreign debt relief for developing countries. Speaking to the United Nations conference on climate change on September 24, 2007, (1) and again to a panel of the Clinton Global Initiative two days later, (2) President Correa outlined a proposal that would leave nearly one billion barrels of heavy crude oil in the ground beneath the Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) oilfield located in his nation's Yasuni National Forest (or Parque Nacional Yasuni), in the environmentally sensitive Amazon River Basin. (3) Not developing the ITT oilfield will avoid a substantial amount of carbon emissions and will protect the forest and indigenous tribes that live in it. (4) In exchange for leaving such a valuable natural resource undisturbed and the corresponding environmental benefits, President Correa explained, Ecuador is seeking "fair compensation" from the international community. (5) By putting forth this proposal, President Correa has moved his country into the forefront of the fight against global man-made climate change, has taken steps toward creating a sustainable economy in Ecuador, and has provided a potential alternative for other developing nations that are faced with difficult choices between the development of their economies and protecting their substantial natural resources.

I. SAVING THE YASUNI NATIONAL FOREST

A. The Yasuni National Forest and the ITT Oilfield

Located just 190 miles from Ecuador's capital city of Quito, the Yasuni National Forest sits in the eastern half of the country, along the border with Peru, in the Amazon River Basin. (6) The forest contains several rivers that feed into the Amazon and is bordered by the Napo and the Curaray Rivers. (7) The humid tropical rainforest is expansive, spanning at least 2.4 million acres, 1.8 million of which constitute a strictly limited "No-Go" zone. (8) The topography of the forest consists primarily of low-lying, fiat plains and is dotted with the foothills of the nearby Andes Mountains to the west. (9)

Dubbed the "cradle of the Amazon," the Yasuni National Forest is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. (10) It is thought to contain over 4,000 species of plants, 173 species of mammals, and over 100,000 species of insects per hectare. (11) Moreover, given the forest's large geographical expanse, it is capable of supporting substantial populations of large carnivores, such as the jaguar and the harpy eagle, which generally cannot survive in smaller parks or wildlife reserves because of the large geographic region these animals need for hunting grounds. (12)

In addition to its incredible array of flora and fauna, the Yasuni Forest also supports several tribes of indigenous people, including the Huaorani, the Tagaeri, and the Taromenane tribes. (13) It is estimated that 9,800 people live in the forest, supporting themselves primarily by agriculture and hunting and gathering. (14) The Huaorani live on a 612,000 hectare reserve created by Ecuador's government in 1983. (15) The Tagaeri and Taromenane tribes have remained voluntarily isolated within the forest, leading traditional lifestyles, independent from other civilizations. (16)

Ecuador designated the Yasuni Forest a national park in 1979, recognizing it as a natural resource worthy of protection. …

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