Ecuador Scraps Yasuni No Oil Drilling Plan

Ecuador a few years ago agreed to set aside Yasuni National Park from oil drilling: for a price. Rafael Correa had asked for $3.6 billion but the by the end of 2012, the fund had only $6.5 million in it. Now, the government looks to go forward with plans on limited oil drilling, with environmentalists mobilizing in protest. This from NPR:

The government of Ecuador has abandoned a plan that would have kept part of the Amazonian rainforest off limits to oil drilling. The initiative was an unusual one: Ecuador was promising to keep the oil in the ground, but it wanted to be paid for doing so.

The oil sits under the Yasuni national park, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth — orchids, jaguars, monkeys, birds. To get to the corner of the park that holds the oil, you have to take a plane, then a motorboat, then paddle a canoe. “Even the sound of the motor will destroy the fragility of this place,” Ivonne A-Baki, who works for the Ecuadorian government, told me this year.

In 2007, the country’s president, Rafael Correa, told the world that Ecuador would leave the oil in the ground. But the country wanted to be paid half of what the oil was valued at, at the time. Ecuador wanted $3.6 billion.

This always struck the international community as a bit like blackmail (pay me or else the park gets it). Interestingly, Ecuador’s proposal isn’t that dissimilar to schemes to pay countries not to cut forests down, so-called REDD [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation] schemes to combat climate change. I think the problem for Ecuador is that the Correa is seen by many in the international community as a left-wing Chavista, which made it unpopular and the proposal potentially cast doubt on the program’s credibility.

Defending the move, Correa said that the value is simply too high and hopes to protect most of the park:

President Correa said scrapping the program was one of the hardest decisions of his presidency. “The real dilemma is this,” he said in a televised address last week. “Do we protect 100 percent of the Yasuní and have no resources to meet the urgent needs of our people, or do we save 99 percent of it and have $18 billion to fight poverty?”

Since Correa’s announcement, environmental groups in Ecuador have said they will fight the decision; they’re hoping to get signatures to force a national referendum that would protect the park.

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