Friday, April 27, 2007

Let's make a (eco) deal

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is politely but forcefully challenging the international environmental community to put its money where its mouth is on climate change. His country is willing to forgo drilling for oil beneath the Amazon rainforest in exchange for annual payments equal to half the estimated value of the oil.

It sounds like a serious "twofer" to me: sequestering oil and preserving a section of the Amazon. (GW)

Ecuador Seeks Compensation to Leave Amazon Oil Undisturbed

Environmental News Service
April 24, 2007

QUITO, Ecuador, April 24, 2007 (ENS) - The government of Ecuador will wait up to one year to see if the international community offers to compensate the country for not developing a major oil field in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Energy Minister Alberto Acosta says. The area of lush, primary rainforest shelters a unique diversity of animals and plants.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and his government say that if the international community can compensate the country with half of the forecasted lost revenues, Ecuador will leave the oil in Yasuni National Park undisturbed to protect the park's biodiversity and indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.

"The first option is to leave that oil in the ground, but the international community would have to compensate us for immense sacrifice that a poor country like Ecuador would have to make," said Correa in a recent radio address.

President Correa estimates the compensation figure at around US$350 million per year.

"Ecuador doesn't ask for charity," said Correa, "but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice and compensates us with at least half of what our country would receive, in recognition of the environmental benefits that would be generated by keeping this oil underground."

The government's offer is in response to intense opposition to oil development in the area from Ecuador's vocal environmental and indigenous organizations who urgently strive to keep this continous primary rainforest intact.

The oil fields, known as Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha, ITT, are the largest untapped oil fields in Ecuador. They have been estimated by Ecuador's government and analysts to contain 900 million to one billion barrels of oil equivalent, about a quarter of the country's known reserves.

On April 4, Petrobras signed a memorandum of understanding with Ecuador's state-run oil company Petroecuador, in which the companies plan to jointly develop the giant oil block. Petrobras said the partners also are considering building a crude oil upgrading plant on site at ITT.

Since late March, Petroecuador also has signed agreements for the development of ITT with Sinopec of China, Enap of Chile, and the Venezuelan State Oil Company PDVSA.

"We now have an unprecedented opportunity to work with a progressive administration in order to save one of the greatest spots on Earth," said ecologist Dr. Matt Finer of Save America's Forests, a conservation group based in Washington, DC. "What are urgently needed now are viable proposals from the international community to present to President Correa."
ITT is located within one of the most remote and still intact parts of Yasuni National Park, globally renowned for its record levels of biodiversity for everything from trees and insects to mammals, birds, and amphibians.

Moreover, ITT is located within the ancestral territory of the Waorani and it is widely believed that several clans are living in voluntary isolation within the project area.

"This presents a landmark opportunity to sequester up to half a billion tons of CO2 while conserving Yasuní's astounding biodiversity and cultural heritage," said Max Christian of the Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology program at the University of Maryland.

"If the international community is serious about mitigating climate change and impacts to ecosystems, structuring a debt-for-carbon swap here offers a very real financing possibility," Christian said.

Ecuador is a country of 13 million people, more than half of whom live in poverty. The government claims that oil revenue is necessary to meet the development needs of its citizens. These revenues account for around 40 percent of the federal budget every year.

Ecuador is burdened with over 15 billion dollars of external debt, including substantial amounts owed to the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank - more than enough to cover Ecuador's ITT compensation offer.

Yasuni National Park protects one of the most biologically rich regions in the world, including a large stretch of the world's most diverse tree community and the highest known insect diversity in the world. It is one of the most diverse places in the world for birds and amphibians.

Yasuni shelters 25 mammal species that are of global concern according to IUCN-The World Conservation Union, including the endangered Amazon tapir, the largest land mammal on the continent, and at least 10 monkey species.

Relatives of the Waorani, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, are believed to be living in voluntary isolation in the ITT area. These groups are renowned for their giant spears and regarded as among the fiercest tribes on Earth. Dr. Finer says they maintain no peaceful contact with the outside world and are completely dependent on a thriving rainforest for survival.

Because of Yasuni's biological and cultural importance, it was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989.

In January, in order to protect the Tagaeri-Taromenane, the Ecuadorian government created an Untouchable Zone - a large area off-limits to oil activities and logging just to the south of ITT.

To the immediate west of ITT is Petrobras' controversial Block 31, where development plans have been stalled for nearly two years due to strong opposition from environmental, scientific, and indigenous organizations.

Several indigenous organizations opposed the creation of the Untouchable Zone because it still allowed oil activities within presumed Taromenane-Tagaeri territory within ITT and Block 31.

In May 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favor of the Tagaeri-Taromenane due to the threats posed to them from oil activities along with illegal logging.

These measures request that the Ecuadorian government "protect the territory in which they inhabit, including actions required to prevent the entry of others."

Juan Ernesto Guevara of Finding Species, a conservation group with offices in Ecuador and the United States, says, "Government approval of oil activities within ITT, as well as Block 31, would represent a violation of these precautionary measures."

To find out more about the uncontacted peoples of the Amazon, visit:


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