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Saving One of the Most Biodiverse Regions in the World By "Keeping the Oil in the Soil"

December 10, 2012 | By Dina Buck

Ecuador's Yasuní National Park (Yasuní) is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.  It is so biologically special that UNESCO declared it an International Biosphere in 1989.  It is also home to the Waorani (also spelled Huaorani) indigenous clans that have called the region home since ancient times.  At least two clans of Waorani voluntarily avoid contact with the modern world, while others have allowed visitors to come learn more about their culture through eco-tourism projects.  For countless reasons, the Yasuní is unique.

Ecuador Encompasses One of the Richest Areas of Biodiversity on Earth

The Yasuní is located in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, which has helped keep it isolated, allowing its rich biodiversity to flourish.  This article in Science Daily notes the Yasuní "...shatters world records for a wide array of plant and animal groups from amphibians to trees to insects."  For example, within a mere 2.5 acres, the Yasuní has more tree species than the US and Canada combined.  The Yasuní National Park also has:

  • The greatest bird diversity on Earth (almost 600 species, representing a third of all known Amazonic birds)
  • More trees, shrubs, and vines per hectare than anywhere else on Earth
  • More species of frogs and toads than the US and Canada combined
  • Some 170 mammals, 560 fish species, almost 300 different reptile and amphibian creatures, and many thousands of different plant species

A Novel Proposal: Paying to 'Keep the Oil in the Soil'

As luck would have it, the Yasuní also sits on top of a lot of crude oil.  A section of the park, known as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) Block, has an estimated 900 million barrels of crude oil, valued at more than 7 billion US dollars, beneath it.  However, in 2007, Ecuador's Government proposed what is known as the "Yasuní-ITT Intiative" asking the international community and carbon markets (and now also small businesses and individuals) to pay Ecuador half the estimated value of the oil underground, paid incrementally in the form of annual donations to be held in a trust handled by the United Nations Development Programme, in exchange for indefinitely conserving the area rather than opening it up for exploration and drilling.

The proposal launched in 2010 and met its goal of $100 million in payments by the end of 2011, which were necessary for the Initiative to be considered viable.  If the payments hadn't happened, the Initiative risked being scrapped.  Presently, the Initiative needs to collect $291 million more by the end of 2013 to continue.  Learn more about the Initiative here.

The Entire World Benefits When We Honor Uniquely Biodiverse Regions

Supporters of the Initiative note the following facts and benefits of its implementation:

  • It prevents 407 million metric tons of CO² emissions due to non-extraction and burning of oil (equal to the annual emissions of all of France)
  • It prevents of 800 million metric tons of CO² from avoided deforestation
  • 78% of Ecuadorian citizens support the Yasuni Initiative
  • It conserves some of the richest biodiversity on Earth
  • It protects the indigenous Waorani people
  • It helps the economic transformation of Ecuador, moving it away from being an extractive economy.

And the reasons to protect biodiversity are growing.  Recent research finds "Loss of biodiversity appears to impact ecosystems as much as climate change, pollution and other major forms of environmental stress..."  This is in contrast to the commonly held belief that global warming and pollution play a greater role in disrupting the health and productivity of ecosystems.  In short, the study finds "species richness" begets species richness, and species decline begets species decline.

Our Year-End Campaign: Help Us Keep An Interconnected Ecosystem Intact

Here at The Pachamama Alliance, we are putting our year-end focus on Ecuador because, while the Yasuní-ITT block remains preserved (for now), other areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon are under threat of oil exploration and drilling, despite widespread protest.  Right now, 10,000,000 pristine acres of rainforest in Ecuador are being auctioned off for an amount of oil that, at best, would meet our world's oil needs for a mere handful of days.  There are other alternatives to fossil fuels, there are other ways to get to where we need to go...but there will never be another Amazon Rainforest.

In recent weeks, indigenous peoples in Ecuador have been standing up in defense of the Amazon Rainforest, but they need your help.  Will you join them?  Click on the bar below to learn more.

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