Time: Rain Forest for Ransom
Global energy consumption and demand for alternative energy sources continue to shape national debates, international trade negotiations, and impact world economies. While the U.S is focusing on natural gas shale drilling, oil remains a major energy source worldwide. South America has one-fifth of the world’s proven oil reserves and, with global oil prices and demand continuing to increase, oil companies are targeting South American reserves for exploration and drilling.
While most oil rich countries welcome the financial boom that accompanies oil extraction and drilling, one country has taken the opposite approach. Ecuador, an economically poor country sitting on billions worth of oil reserves, is generating global attention due to an innovative proposal to prevent oil drilling and preserve natural resources while still generating significant income. Despite Ecuador’s economy—which is highly dependent on oil exports—President Rafael Correa wants to preserve Yasuni National Park, a 10,000 square kilometer area and one of the world’s most pristine and bio-diverse areas, through a plan called the Yasuni ITT initiative. Ecuador has asked the global community to help save its rainforests by paying Ecuador to shut the doors of Yasuni to the oil companies.
Correa is hoping to convince more economically developed countries that might value rain forests and conservation of natural resources to pay $3.6 billion (approximately half of what the oil reserves are estimated to be worth) over thirteen years to preserve Yasuni Park. The United Nations Development Program would collect the funds from interested governments and devote the monies to preservation and settlements in and near the park. In return for the payments, Correa pledges that Yasuni will remain a National Park and oil companies will not be permitted to drill there.
While critics see the initiative as environmental blackmail (pay up or lose the rainforests), Ecuador points out that it is willing to forgo “the most financially lucrative option” in favor of the global environmental advantages that all nations would enjoy if Yasuni remains untouched. To date, the success of the initiative has not been promising as few governments and organizations met the December 31, 2011 deadline to pledge $100 million to the program. In better economic times, the governments of European nations, the U.S., Japan, and others might be more willing to pledge funds to the initiative. However, given the current financial circumstances of national governments around the world, the Yasuni initiative has been a hard sell to citizens facing economic hardships, austerity measures, and financial uncertainty.