LATIN AMERICA ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT MONITOR
A source of news and analysis on energy and environmental issues in Latin America
By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
Issue #2, August 26 2010
Ecuador's Yasuni-ITT initiative and the post-petroleum future
In the world of environmental activism good news are woefully infrequent. But rainforest defenders and advocates of a post-petroleum economy have reason to celebrate this month, following the Ecuador government's official signing on to a binding arrangement that will leave oil underground in exchange for a financial compensation. The unprecedented deal, known as the Yasuní Initiative, will leave underground the estimated 850 million barrels of oil under the ITT oil block, located in the Yasuní National Park.
The Ecuadorian government seeks some $350 million over the next ten years, which is less than half of the money it would have made if it had opened the ITT block to oil extraction. This money, to be provided by the international community, will be invested in the development of renewable energy, maintain ecosystems and protected areas, reforest degraded areas, promote social development and improve energy efficiency. The funds are to be administered by the United Nations Development Program. The deal will prevent the emission of 407 million tons of carbon dioxide.
The Yasuní National Park is the most biodiverse zone of South America and one of the most biodiverse in the world, according to a report by Ecuadorian and U.S. scientists published in the open-access online scientific journal PLoS ONE (plusone.org).
"Yasuní is at the center of a small zone where South America's amphibians, birds, mammals, and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity," reported Dr. Clinton Jenkins of the University of Maryland. "The 150 species of amphibians documented to date in Yasuní are a world record for an area of this size," said Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, of Ecuador's Universidad de San Francisco. "There are more species of frogs and toads within Yasuní than there are native to the United States and Canada combined."
"In just one hectare in Yasuní, there are more species of trees, bushes and lianas [woody vines] than in anyplace in the world," said Ecuadorian botanist Gorky Villa, who has worked with the Smithsonian Institution and the non-governmental organization Finding Species.
Furthermore, it is estimated that in a single hectare of the Yasuní forest, there are 100,000 species of insects. According to the distinguished entomologist Terry Erwin, this is the highest biodiversity per unit area in the world for any plant or animal group. The authors of the study found that Yasuní is home to at least 121 reptile species, 596 bird, 382 fish and 204 mammal species.
The ITT block, which covers almost 200,000 hectares of rainforest, constitutes 23% of the Yasuní National Park.
Among the initiative's benefits, the Ecuadorian government lists the following:
* Support for the country's transition from an extractive economy, based on the exploitation of petroleum, towards a model of sustainable development, with broad use of renewable energy sources, respect for biodiversity and social equality. The reduced and avoided CO2 emissions achieved through ecosystem conservation, reforestation and development of clean sources of energy will reach a billion tons in the next thirty years.
* Reinvestment of donations into renewable energy sources reduces or eliminates the generation of electricity with petroleum derivates, which currently supply 47% of Ecuador's electricity. In this way, future CO2 emissions are further reduced. The conservation of protected areas and the reduction of deforestation in Ecuador is a second benefit which is added to climate change mitigation and biodiversity preservation. Also, social programs to be funded by donations to the initiative will promote education, health and the sustainable creation of productive employment in the projects' zones of influence, which cover much of Ecuador.
“It is time to acknowledge and congratulate those who have worked for this initiative: the Waorani indigenous people, who for over twenty years had denounced the impacts of oil operations in their territories; (and) the peoples and communities who through their resistance inspired the Yasuni proposal”, declared Acción Ecológica, a local environmental group that was key in supporting the Yasuní Initiative.
The group also thanked “the leaders of CONAIE (indigenous peoples' federation) who have maintained and promoted the protection of Yasuní; those oil industry workers who provided valuable technical information and from their spaces supported the initiative; the plaintiffs in the case against Texaco, who allowed us access to information about the impacts of oil extraction activity; the youngsters of the 'Amazon for Life' campaign, who promoted the defense of the Yasuni in schools, colleges and neighborhoods all over the country; the artists, journalists and academics who kept the initiative alive; and the current and former government officials who undertook actions to consolidate the first option for the Yasuní”
Matt Finer (Save America's Forests) "Científicos identifican al parque nacional de Yasuní de Ecuador como uno de los lugares más biodiversos del planeta" http://www.biodiversidadla.org/Principal/Contenido/Noticias/Cientificos_identifican_al_Parque_Nacional_de_Yasuni_de_Ecuador_como_uno_de_los_lugares_mas_biodiversos_del_Planeta
Esperanza Martínez. “¿Qué celebramos con la firma del fideicomiso de la Iniciativa Yasuní?” http://bolpress.de/art.php?Cod=2010080404
Yasuní Initiative official web site: http://yasuni-itt.gob.ec/
For more information:
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is an independent environmental journalist and an environmental analyst for the CIP Americas Program (www.cipamericas.org), a Fellow of the Oakland Institute and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program. In addition, he is founder and director of the Puerto Rico Biosafety Project (bioseguridad.blogspot.com). His bilingual web page (carmeloruiz.blogspot.com) is dedicated to global environmental and development concerns. He can be contacted at email@example.com