Ecuador’s Yasuni-itt initiative: a critical Assessment1


Chart 2 Oil Extraction by fields in Ecuador: 1972-2026



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Chart 2

Oil Extraction by fields in Ecuador: 1972-2026


Source: Ministerio de Energía y Minas, Ecuador, 2007.



Table 1

Oil extraction, exports and imports in Ecuador: 2000-2011 (million barrels)








Exports










Year

Extraction

Crude

Derivatives

Total

(X)

Derivative

Imports (I)

Internal consumption

Net Exports (X-I)

























2000

146209

86197

15802

101999

5832

50042

96167

2001

148746

89907

14332

104239

8693

53200

95546

2002

143759

84263

13268

97531

6153

52381

91378

2003

153518

92442

11632

104074

15759

65203

88315

2004

192315

129409

13556

142965

17348

66698

125617

2005

194172

131595

12799

144394

22173

71951

122221

2006

195523

136634

13615

150249

25932

71206

124317

2007

186547

124,098

15,160

139258

29329

76618

109929

2008

184706

127,395

15,416

142812

27859

69753

114953

2009

177408

119,558

12,334

131892

32179

77696

99713

2010

177422

124,464

10,259

134723

41004

83702

93719

2011

182357

121,732

11,527

133259

37435

86533

95824

Source: Banco Central del Ecuador (March 2012 and previous issues). Información Estadística Mensual (www.be.fin.ec).


Ecuador’s Biodiversity
Ecuador has one of the most diverse natural and cultural endowments in the word, with the highest number of vertebrates per square kilometre on earth. Additionally, Ecuador ranks among the first ten most abundant countries in the absolute number of amphibians, birds, and butterflies. Ecuador also has a rich cultural diversity, with 14 indigenous nationalities and 13 spoken languages.
In all, Ecuador has 17 different ecosystems, and about 35% of its land still remains covered by undisturbed ecosystems, mostly in the Amazon region. Within this region, the Yasuni National Park is the most important biological reserve.
According to recent research, the Yasuni National Park is the most biologically diverse hotspot in the Western Hemisphere (Bass, Finer, Jenkins, et al., 2010). It was created in 1979 and declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1989. The Park is located in the upper Napo basin in the western Amazon region, and it has an area of 928,000 ha. Its strategic position, close to the equator and the Andean mountains, provides unique climatic conditions in the Amazon basin, with relatively high and uniform temperatures and rainfall levels.
Scientists agree on the park’s unique value due to its extraordinary biodiversity, state of conservation, and cultural heritage. The reserve has an estimated 2,274 tree and bush species, and 655 species have been counted in just one hectare; this is similar to the total number of native tree species in the United States and Canada combined. The park has 593 recorded bird species, making it one of the world’s most diverse avian sites. There are 80 bat, 150 amphibian and 121 reptile species as well as 4,000 vascular plant species per million hectares. The number of insect species is estimated to be 100,000 per hectare, the highest concentration on the planet. Furthermore, the species found in the park have a high level of endemism.
The park has the highest density of amphibian, mammal, bird, and plant species in the Amazon region. In addition to high biodiversity, the projected temperature rise in the park due to climate change will be comparatively moderate, which makes the region strategically important for the future conservation of species (Bass, Finer, Jenkins, et al., 2010; Hoorn, 2006).
According to a well-known theory, the upper Napo territory, when the Yasuni Park is located, was the largest Amazon refuge in the Pleistocene era, when glaciers drastically cooled the earth several times, converting most of the Amazon basin into grassland. Species concentrated in a few places like Yasuni – “the Pleistocene refuges” – where jungle still flourished, leading to a process of speciation (Haffer, 1969, Bush and de Oliveira, 2006, Haffer and Ptance, 2002, Solomon, Bacci, Martins, Gonçalves and Mueller, 2008).
The Yasuni-ITT Initiative
Large deposits of heavy crude petroleum have been recently confirmed in the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) field, located in the Yasuni National Park. President Rafael Correa announced to the United Nations that Ecuador had decided to maintain the crude petroleum in the ITT field indefinitely underground, in order to place social and environmental values first, and that it was exploring other ways to benefit economically from the Amazon and its conservation. If the international community cooperates with Ecuador by contributing at least half of the revenue that the State would receive by extracting the petroleum, the State would initially assume up to half of the opportunity cost of keeping the petroleum in the ground (Correa, 2007).
This original initiative proposes:


  1. An innovative option for combating global warming, by avoiding the production of fossil fuels in areas which are biologically and culturally highly sensitive in developing countries;




  1. Protecting the biodiversity of Ecuador and supporting the voluntary isolation of uncontacted indigenous peoples that live in the Yasuni Park (the Tagaeri and Taromenane);




  1. Social development, nature conservation, and turning to the use of renewable energy sources as part of a strategy aimed to consolidate a new model of sustainable human development in the country.

Ecuador commits itself to indefinitely refrain from extracting the 846 million barrels of petroleum reserves in the ITT field, within the Yasuni National Park. The international community helps by providing a financial contribution, creating a capital fund to be administered by UNDP, with the participation of the Ecuadorian government, Ecuadorian civil society, and international contributors.


The Fund’s capital will be invested in renewable energy projects in Ecuador that can promise stable and safe returns, taking advantage of the country’s vast hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, and solar potential, in order to overcome its current dependence on fossil fuels, which currently account for 47% of all power generation. The interest earned from this fund will be invested by the state in the following objectives, within the guidelines of the National Development Plan:


  1. The effective conservation and prevented deforestation of the Yasuni Park and other 44 protected areas, which account for 4.8 million hectares, along with other remaining ecosystems. The total area protected amounts to at least 19% of Ecuador’s territory, one of the highest percentages in the world, and the total area covered by pristine forests to be conserved reaches 35% of the national territory. Properly conserving Yasuní Park would also allow the Tagaeri and Taromenane peoples to remain in voluntary isolation. A substantial reduction in the deforestation rate, currently regarded as one of the highest in South America, will be pursued.




  1. The natural regeneration, reforestation, and afforestation of one million hectares of forest managed by small landholders, on land currently threatened with degradation.




  1. An increase in national energy efficiency and energy savings.




  1. Social development in the zones of influence of the three preceding objectives, with programs in education and training, health, technical assistance, and productive job creation in sustainable businesses, such as ecotourism and agro-forestry.




  1. Research and development in science and technology aimed to ensure sustainability.

The Yasuni-ITT fund will promote the transition from the current development model, based on petroleum extraction, to a new strategy based on equality and sustainability (Larrea, 2008).


The project has received the official support of various internationally recognized individuals, including; Nobel Peace laureates Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchú; Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel laureate in Medicine; Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations and intellectuals like Vandana Shiva and Enrique Iglesias; ex-presidents Mikhail Gorbachev (USSR), Felipe González (Spain), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelett (Chile), Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Prince Charles of Great Britain and Danielle Mitterrand, President of the France Libertés Foundation, among others. It has also received formal backing from the German Parliament, with unanimous support from all political parties, as well as the European Union, and other international bodies such as OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), CAN (Andean Community of Nations), CAF (Andean Development Corporation), the OAS (Organization of American States), numerous international organizations, like the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), and various indigenous organizations and ecological groups in Ecuador. The active support from UNDP, which administrates the capital fund, is an important achievement. Chile became the first country in the world to contribute financially to the Initiative, followed by Spain. Other countries, such as Italy, Colombia, Georgia, Turkey, and Peru also have contributed to the Fund, as well as the Wallonia regional government in Belgium and several local governments in France. Non-governmental organizations, such as AVINA, also participate in the Initiative.


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