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Unique program to leave oil beneath Amazonian paradise raises $300 million
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
November 26, 2012


Black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) with fly near its eye in an ox-bow lake in Yasuni National Park. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) with fly near its eye in an ox-bow lake in Yasuni National Park. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.

The Yasuni-ITT Initiative has been called many things: controversial, ecological blackmail, revolutionary, pioneering, and the best chance to keep oil companies out of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. But now, after a number of ups and downs, the program is beginning to make good: the Yasuni-ITT Initiative has raised $300 million, according to the Guardian, or 8 percent of the total amount needed to fully fund the idea.

The program, which is the first of its kind, proposes to leave an estimated 850 million barrels of oil untouched in Yasuni National Park if donors worldwide compensate Ecuador for about half of the worth of the oil: $3.6 billion. The money would keep oil companies out of 200,000 hectares known as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin (ITT) blocs. The money doesn't go directly to the Ecuador government, but instead to a United Nations Development Fund (UNDF) which will be used to fund green energy projects, conservation initiatives, reforestation programs, and community development. The involvement of the UNDF also adds extra assurances that if the funds are raised, the oil will stay in the ground.

While the $300 million raised is not yet near the full amount requested, it shows significant progress from a year ago when many predicted the Yasuni-ITT Initiative would suffer a quick demise. Ecuador has said it will give the program 13 years for full funding.

Proponents of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative argue that it will preserve one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, keep an estimated 410 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, and protect indigenous people in the reserve. With one sweep, the initiative could help mitigate several of the world's ecological crisis: mass extinction, deforestation, and climate change. However, critics argue that the program is little more than blackmail from Ecuador: as a National Park oil drilling should not be occurring in Yasuni in the first place. Still, Ecuador is not alone in seeking to exploit its national parks. More and more countries worldwide are opening protected areas to fossil fuel extraction as well as mining, logging, and plantations.

If successful, the Yasuni-ITT Initiative could have a major impact on how nations combat both climate change and biodiversity loss in the future. For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently warned that if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, two thirds of the world's fossil fuels must be left in the ground. While it appears far-fetched today, paying nations not to exploit fossil fuel deposits could become common course as the impacts of climate change begin to rise.

Yasuni National Park is on the short-list of regions that may be the most biodiverse on the planet. Last year, researchers declared that Yasuni was the most biodiverse place in the western hemisphere at least based on data of birds, mammals, amphibians, and plant. A single hectare of rainforest in Yasuni has been found to hold more tree species—655—than all of the U.S. and Canada combined.

The Yasuni-ITT Initiative has a broad array of supporters, including UN head Ban Ki-moon, author and ecologist Michael Tobias, and actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton, who is also the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity.



Morpho butterfly in Yasuni National Park. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Morpho butterfly in Yasuni National Park. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.



Close-up of wild female Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris), which was raised by an indigenous tribe after her mother was hunted for food, periodically seeks out humans. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Close-up of wild female Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris), which was raised by an indigenous tribe after her mother was hunted for food, periodically seeks out humans. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.



Rufescent tiger heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) in Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Rufescent tiger heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) in Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.



Guide picking up a bom jardim toad (Rhinella dapsilis) with a leaf in Yasuni National Park. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Guide picking up a bom jardim toad (Rhinella dapsilis) with a leaf in Yasuni National Park. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.



Aerial view of Yasuni National Park. Notice tree in center with yellow blooms. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Aerial view of Yasuni National Park. Notice tree in center with yellow blooms. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.















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