Published in the Ecologist, August 2010. To view the article in its original format, click here.

Ecuador seeks $3.6 billion from international donors to protect species-rich rainforest reserve from oil exploration

Ecuador has signed a groundbreaking agreement with the United Nations to forgo oil exploration in Yasuni National Park – believed to be one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth.

Germany has already pledged $838 million; Spain, Sweden, France and Switzerland are also expected to make significant contributions.

rainforestBut Ecuador says it will need a total of $3.6 billion to guarantee that the one million-hectare rainforest reserve will remain untouched for a decade. The figure amounts to half of the revenue that could be generated from extracting the 850 million barrels of oil that lie beneath the reserve, which would release millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The agreement represents a victory for local indigenous people who have fiercely resisted development in the region for decades.

Environmental groups have welcomed the scheme, saying it is a good alternative to carbon offsetting initiatives, of which some environmentalists remain sceptical.

If successful, the proposal could represent the future of biodiversity protection and climate mitigation. ‘Not only could it pave the way for interesting initiatives to keep fossil fuels in the ground, there could be similar initiatives or moratoria – on logging and sustainable forest conservation, for example,’ said Joseph Zacuni, International Coordinator of Friends of the Earth International’s Climate, Justice and Energy Programme.

But the scheme can only work, warned Sarah Shoraka, Biodiversity Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, ‘if protection is permanent, local people are actively involved and the carbon savings are additional to any emissions cuts that donor countries make at home.’