How the World’s ‘Most Biodiverse Place’ Could Be Ransomed for Oil Money

In 2007, an initiative was signed that aimed to leave more than 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched beneath Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. The terms of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative set out that in exchange for not tapping into the crude oil, the Ecuadorean government would ask the world to cover just half of the crude’s $7.2 billion market price.

At the time, the initiative was seen as a future blueprint to cut greenhouse gases, and help reduce the impact of oil exploration and extraction on the environment. In 2010, the United Nations announced its support for the project, and set up a trust fund to receive and manage the donations. This so-called crowd-sourcing conservation seemed to be a practical model for other developing nations.

However, it has been six years since the project kicked off, and the signs are not good. The plan raised less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion: Ecuador’s government says it has received $116.7 million and has pledges for another $220 million – some of it in non-cash cooperation. The UN trust fund has banked just $9.8 million.

The lack of funds has led to whispers that Ecuador might be forced to drill for crude oil in the ITT oil block, which the government says holds 20 percent of the country’s energy reserves.

“We want to keep 400 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa said in April, “but if the international community doesn’t help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people.”

The vision behind the project cannot be faulted, and it would have been some feat had it been successful. However, the world’s nations and their people are still not ready to commit to finding an oil-free energy solution to powering the planet, and until that happens, initiatives like the Yasuni-ITT are doomed to fail. Although there are no plans to start extracting yet, we can only assume that it won’t be long before oil sitting below some of the Earth’s most undiscovered natural world will instead be sitting in yet another car’s petrol tank.

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