Ecuador’s Yasuni-itt initiative: a critical Assessment1

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The Initiative has established itself nationally and internationally as a possible option for mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity. The road ahead is complex and difficult; it requires strong and continuous political support by the Ecuadorian state and an effective promotion campaign at an international level. If the initiative is consolidated, climate change mitigation mechanisms may be extended for developing countries, including avoided emissions by the non-extraction of fossil fuels. For Ecuador, the advantages of conserving the Yasuní National Park and the biodiversity of the Amazon are critical to future generations.
The obstacles to overcome, however, are complex. The international financial crisis, sparked in 2008 and deepened by the current euro situation, may continue, seriously affecting the availability of resources for international cooperation towards climate change and biodiversity.
Since the failure of the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, international climate change negotiations have stalled. While this situation makes the Ecuadorian proposal more visible as a concrete, replicable and effective option, the lack of an internationally binding agreement reduces available resources for mitigation of climate change and difficults negotiations for new mechanisms for developing countries, under the framework of a post-Kyoto agreement.
Finally, the Republican opposition in the United States has eliminated from the Senate agenda the discussion on climate change legislation with binding targets for reducing emissions. In the absence of a federal policy on climate change, the support of the Initiative in North America is confined to the states and civil society.
This unfavorable short term international context has hampered the Initiative. The negotiations may have also been weakened by the perception from several international groups of a conditional support of the Ecuadorian government to the Initiative, following public references to Plan B, oil extraction, or deadlines to the international negotiations of the Initiative. The Initiative has also been adversely affected by the frequent changes in its institutional structure, which has seen five different commissions in charge of its promotion since 2007. During these last three years, there have been critical problems regarding its dissemination and promotion.
These unfavorable factors can be neutralized or reversed by a strong and unequivocal support to the Initiative from the Ecuadorian government, accompanied by an extensive international promotion campaign. In the medium term, the growing international awareness of the urgent need for effective action on climate change and biodiversity loss may create favorable conditions to the Initiative. The extended period of fundraising will overcome the adverse cyclical elements that have been mentioned.

The recently developed multiple criteria analysis on the Yasuní-ITT (Vallejo, Falconí, Larrea y Burbano, 2011), which integrates economic, social, environmental and political dimensions, concludes that the Initiative is definitely far more favorable to the country than extracting oil, limiting its benefits to only financial gains in the short term, with serious environmental damage, whilst on the other hand, the Initiative possesses a high potential towards sustainability and equity. The Initiative is not only favorable to the country preventing oil extraction in the ITT field, but also opens new alternatives for international cooperation on climate change and the irreversible loss of biodiversity.

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