Ecuador’s Yasuni-itt initiative: a critical Assessment1

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Protecting biodiversity
The Yasuni-ITT Initiative will not only allow the protection of the Yasuni Park but also the effective conservation of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforests, currently jeopardized by oil extraction, illegal logging, hunting, and new settlements. The Amazon is the largest remaining rainforest in the planet.
Chart 5

Cumulative CO2 Emissions, Projected Global Warming and Fossil Fuel Reserves

Source: Meinshausen et al (2009), Greenhouse emission targets for limiting global warming to 2°C, Nature, 458, abril.
Biodiversity does not only have an intrinsic value; it also constitutes the very origin of our existence as species. The benefits of ecosystems in terms of regulating the weather, providing water, food, wood, pharmaceutical resources, and other renewable goods directly benefit 1.6 billion people worldwide, mainly in developing countries (World Bank, 2003, Chivian and Bernstein, 2010).

Biodiversity, and particularly rainforests, provide several critical services to humankind. Most of new medicines have been derived from properties of living organisms. Among the best known are “morphine from the Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum), aspirin from the White Willow Tree (Salix alba vulgaris), and the anticoagulant coumadin from spoiled sweet clover (Melilotus species). Tropical plants such as the Madagascar, or Rosy, Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) have yielded vinblastine (which has revolutionized the treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, turning a disease that was once uniformly fatal into one that can now be totally cured in many patients) and vincristine (which has done the same for acute childhood leukemia). Medicines from animals include: the ACE inhibitors (which are among the most effective medicines known for treating high blood pressure) from the Pit Viper (Bothrops jararaca), and AZT (azidothymidine) used in the treatment of HIV-AIDS, patterned after compounds made by the marine sponge Cryptotethya crypta. Microbes have given us nearly all of our antibiotics such as penicillin, as well as the cholesterol lowering statins, and rapamycin (also called sirolimus), which is used to coat arterial stents, sothat the cells lining the arteries opened by the stents do not divide and re-clog them.” (Chivian, 2010, p. 11).

As infectious agents evolve and new diseases are transmitted from domestic animals, conventional medicines become less effective, resistance to antibiotics increases and new products are required. The potential value of rainforests for medical research becomes critical for the future of humankind.

The future of food security, which is increasingly recognized as a critical situation12, also depends on biodiversity (Brown, 2013).  Although the number of species used in agriculture is small, productivity depends on complex phenomena such as pollination, the stability of climate, soil fertility, water supply and genetic diversity of crops.  All these processes in turn are held by biodiversity.  Particularly, tropical ecosystems play an indispensable role through services such as climate regulation and moisture, food supply and water purification, regulation of droughts and floods, storing carbon and the formation and detoxification of fertile soil.  In summary, conversation and survival of biodiversity, particularly in tropical ecosystems, is essential for the future of humankind.

Tropical rainforests make up the greatest reserve of biodiversity on the planet, harbouring 28% of all land vertebrate species and an even greater percentage of invertebrates and other living species (UNEP, 2005). Human activity in the last 50 years has dealt a severe blow to biodiversity, in particular in tropical rainforests. The current rates of species extinction are up to 1,000 times higher than those from natural causes (UNEP, 2005), posing the greatest threat to planetary biodiversity since the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The worldwide deterioration of biodiversity between 1970 and 2005 has been estimated at 30%, based on population counts of a high number of representative species. This problem is even more serious in tropical ecosystems, where the reduction reaches 51% (WWF, 2010).

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