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Ecuador: The Yasuni-ITT Initiative

In 2007, the Ecuadorian government unveiled an ambitious environmental plan called the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, which would call for the oil reserves estimated at 870 million barrels found in the Yasuni National Park to remain underground. In exchange, the Ecuadorian government would seek compensation from the international community for 50% of the lost revenues from choosing not to drill. The money will be used for renewable energy projects and other environmental activities.

By not drilling the area, the government states that this will prevent approximately 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere. In addition, it seeks to prevent environmental damage to the Amazon region and the negative effects to its residents, which has occurred in the past with previous oil exploration projects.

The blogger Orazio J. Bellettini writes:

La Iniciativa ITT es importante para el Ecuador porque permite sentar las bases para pasar de un modelo de desarrollo basado en la explotación de recursos naturales a otro basado en el conocimiento y el desarrollo sustentable. Y es importante para el mundo porque demuestra que es posible alinear los intereses de los países industrializados y los países en vías de desarrollo para enfrentar el cambio climático.

The ITT Initiative is important for Ecuador because it allows for the necessary basis for a development model that goes from the exploitation of natural resources to one based on sustainable knowledge and development. It is important for the world because it demonstrates that it is possible to align the interests of the industrialized country with the interests of developing countries to face climate change.

However, the proposal has not been going as planned. Even though the government has received some tentative commitments from Western European governments, the Ecuadorian Vice-President was recently in Europe and the Middle East seeking for additional financial commitments. Now three years later, the Initiative has failed to attract the attention and interest as had been hoped, placing the Initiative's intended goal in jeopardy. President Rafael Correa recently announced that there is a “Plan B” in place if the money is not raised, and which would call for drilling with minimal environmental impact.

One of  the 62 species of snake in the surroundings of the Yasuni Scientific Station - Orellana province.  Photo courtesy of  the Estación Científica Yasuní and used under permission

One of the 62 species of snake in the sourroundings of the Yasuni Scientific Station – Orellana province. Photo courtesy of the Estación Científica Yasuní and used under permission

The blogger known as Libertario [es] believes that his country is acting like a beggar holding a shotgun threatening to drill for oil if the money is not handed over. He writes:

Lastimosamente sin el calentamiento global es ridículo andar pregonando que el Ecuador con esta iniciativa es el salvador de la humanidad. Pensemos por un momento que el calentamiento global fuera cierto y los demás países tomaran la lógica de este singular proyecto, entonces se tendría que compensar a los países ricos como los EEUU por no explotar el petróleo en Alaska y sus costas. Ahí si quisiera ver las caras de los izquierdosos ecológicos al tener que oponerse a que el “imperio” reclame sus justa compensación.

El proyecto no esta exento de incoherencias como por ejemplo porque no se lo hace retroactivo ya que hemos estado evitando la explotación del sitio en cuestión desde siempre. Vamos cobremos a estos países ricachones siquiera 100 años de sacrificios.

Unfortunately without global warming, it is ridiculous to go around saying that with this initiative that Ecuador is humanity's savior. Consider for a moment that global warming was true and the other countries take on the logic of this particular project, then we would have to compensate rich countries like the U.S. for not drilling for oil in Alaska and its coast. I'd like to see the faces of the ecological leftists having to oppose the “empire's” claim for their fair compensation.

The project has some inconsistencies. For example, why is it not made retroactive, since we have not drilled at the site for a long time. Let's charge to these wealthy countries for at least 100 years of sacrifices.

Rafael Méndez Meneses points out that any oil exploration can only be made after prior consultation through a referendum as outlined in the new Constitution [es], and he believes that if put to a vote that the people would vote for oil exploration.

However, not all are convinced that the government would use these funds efficiently and transparently. There are already reactions from indigenous communities who call for increased participation in the project [es]. The original proposal from Quito Mayor Roque Sevilla who headed up the government appointed commission called for the funds to be administered by the United Nations Development Programme, but that commission was subsequently dissolved and the funds would be administered the government. In the opinion of blogger Juan Fernando Pacheco of Saturn Attacks [es], he does not see the point of a commission if its decisions are not respected:

Lo verdaderamente mediocre se da cuando, aun logrando lo pedido por parte del Gobierno Ecuatoriano, se decide de forma unilateral echar al tarro de basura todo, por orden del Presidente Rafael Correa – según, lo dijo el mismo el día sábado pasado en la cadena sabatina—debido a que quienes conformaron el fideicomiso, querían que el dinero sea invertido en proyectos de orden ecológico, mientras que el Gobierno Ecuatoriano quería usar ese dinero según su propia discrecionalidad.

Eso, es ser mediocre, trabajar tanto, para al final echar todo por el piso porque mis intereses –aun cuando sean estos de un gobierno– estén por encima de los intereses del resto del mundo.

What is truly mediocre is when, even after with the request from the Ecuadorian government, it is unilaterally decided to throw everything in the trash, by order of President Rafael Correa – according to what he said last Saturday in his national radio address – because those who made up the commission wanted the money to be invested in ecological projects, while the Ecuadorian Government wanted the money under its own discretion.

That is being mediocre, working that much, for at the end throw everything on the floor because my interests – even when they are those of a government – are above the interests of the rest of the world.

This led to the recent developments, when the Ecuadorian negotiating team was about to sign an agreement with the UNDP and other donor nations. President Correa ordered them not to sign the agreement. Millan Ludeña [es]writes:

En Bundestag, mientras los potenciales donantes exteriores preguntaban sobre los mecanismos de inversión, el Ecuador indicaba que el dinero debía recaudarse a través de un fideicomiso que brindara las garantías necesarias a los inversionistas. Así, el fideicomiso fue desarrollado entre la comisión negociadora y los técnicos del PNUD, en la figura de un pre-acuerdo el cual se firmaría en Copenhague, pero la oportunidad se perdió cuando el presidente Correa, a parte de no asistir a respaldar la propuesta, prohibió a última hora la firma de los Términos de Referencia del acuerdo entre Ecuador y el PNUD.

In Bundestag, while the potential external donors asked about the investment mechanisms, Ecuador indicated that the money should be collected by the trust that would provide the necessary guarantees to the investors. In that way, the trust was developed among the negotiating committee and the UNDP technicians, within the pre-agreement that would be signed in Copenhagen, but the opportunity was lost when President Correa, in addition to not attending to back the proposal, at the last minute prohibited to signing of the Terms of Agreement of the agreement between Ecuador and the UNDP.

Ludeña adds how this was presented to the media:

Sin embargo, el canciller Falconí y los representantes del PNUD, en una muestra magistral de profesionalismo, aunque no firmaron el documento, consiguieron que los titulares de la prensa nacional e internacional indiquen que se estaba avanzando en la redacción de los contratos y además que el PNUD respaldaba la iniciativa Yasuní ITT calificándola como “fantástica”.

Foreign Minister Falconi and representatives of the UNDP, in a masterful display of professionalism, even though they did not sign the document, made headlines in the national and international media which said that the drafting of the contracts were progressing and that the UNDP supported the Yasuní ITT initiative calling it “fantastic.”

Regardless of the outcome, there are some like Diego Martínez who think something must be done to protect these natural resources pointing to the past experiences in the country in regards to environmental preservation. He comments on the blogpost of Orazio J. Bellettini:

El ecuatoriano en general se vende por poco dinero, la dignidad y el futuro son hipotecables por un beneficio a corto plazo. Ejemplos tenemos muchos: la deforestacion en Esmeraldas por las madereras y palmicultoras, la tala del manglar en el litoral costero, la via Salcedo-Tena, la via Riobamba-Macas, la proxima refineria en el Aromo son claras muestras de depredacion de las areas protegidas, ineptitud institucional y falta de definicion de la corriente de desarrollo

In general, the Ecuadorian sold himself for little money, the dignity and future are mortgaged for a short-term benefit. Examples are many: deforestation in Esmeraldas by logging and oil palm growers, logging in mangrove coastline, the Salcedo-Tena road, the Riobamba-Macas road, the next refinery in the Aromo are clear evidence of predation of protected areas, institutional ineptitude and lack of definition of the current development.

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