Magazine article Earth Island Journal

No Money Down

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

No Money Down

Article excerpt

When it was announced in 2007, Ecuador's Yasuni ITT-Initiative to protect an area of the Amazonian rainforest from oil drilling was hailed as a historic conservation effort. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said he wouldn't allow oil extraction in parts of Yasuni National Park if international donors agreed to reimburse Ecuador for half of the lost revenues of the estimated 846 million barrels of oil underneath the forest. Environmentalists called the idea "unprecedented."

Six years later, the only adjective that fits is "unsuccessful."

In August, Correa announced he was abandoning the initiative after fairing to come up with the $3.6 billion he was asking for to protect the 2.5 million-acre rainforest, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Ecuador had only managed to attract $13 million in donations and another $116 million in pledges.

Then, in early October, the Ecuadorian Congress approved drilling in two concessions in the park, a biodiversity hotspot that is supposed to have more tree and insect species in a single hectare than in all of the US and Canada combined. The park is also home to two Indigenous tribes, the Waorani and the Taromenane, that live in the forest in voluntary isolation.

Environmentalists say the failure to fund the Yasuni Initiative rests on Correa. They say the government's 2008 default on its international debt, combined with mixed messages from the president's office, sowed doubts among international donors. President Correa, meanwhile, blames the international community. "It was not charity that we sought. It was shared responsibility in the fight against climate change," he told a national television audience when announcing the end of the initiative. "Sadly, we have to say that the world has failed us."

Ecuadorian environmentalists are now gearing up for a last-ditch effort to save the park--a national referendum to put Yasuni off-limits forever. …

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