Oil Stays Underground

In a historic deal with the United Nations, Ecuador has vowed to abandon plans to drill for oil in the country´s largest national park in exchange for international donations.

There are close to 850 million barrels of crude in the Yasuni National Park, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but the nature reserve is one of the most biodiverse sites on earth.

“We are witnessing the inauguration of new instruments of cooperation which will act as a basis for supporting other national and international efforts directed towards the search for economies that are in harmony with society, nature and the planet,” said Rebeca Grynspan, associate administrator of the U.N. Development Program, which set up a trust fund with Ecuador to administer the donations.

Under the agreement, signed Aug. 2, Ecuador would receive US$3.6 billion from wealthy nations over the next 13 years, the equivalent of half of what it would earn from drilling in the Yasuni, which was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989.

Ecuador plans to use the funds for renewable energy projects, conservation and reforestation, social spending and in the science and technology sectors.

The ITT fields, known for the oil blocks Ishpingo, Tiputini y Tambococha, are one of the country´s and the world´s most biodiverse areas, with 2,000 species of trees, 800 species of birds, amphibians and reptiles and 160,000 species of insects. The 982,000-hectare Yasuni park is also home to indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.

The agreement was first scheduled to be signed at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen last December, but Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said the agreement threatened national sovereignty because a third party — the United Nations — would be dolling out the money. Correa´s position led to the resignation of Foreign Minister Fender Falconí, one of the initiative´s architects.

The UN and Ecuador reached an agreement after three months of talks.

But life in the Yasuni had not only been under threat from oil drilling. Ecuador´s former Energy and Mines Minister Alberto Acosta told the Latin American Information Agency recently that illegal logging, human settlements and illegal tourism also threaten the area, alone with the Manta-Manaos roadway under the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America, known as IIRSA.


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