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Biotropica

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Vol 46 (6 Issues in 2014)
Print ISSN: 0006-3606 Online ISSN: 1744-7429
Impact Factor: 2.351

October 27, 2009

Are Ecuador’s Plans to Leave Oil Under the Amazon a New Model for Tackling Climate Change?

While the world’s attention may be fixed on Copenhagen, it is in Ecuador that one of the boldest new measures yet taken by a government to combat climate change has been announced. In a paper published today in Biotropica, experts assess the Yasuní-ITT initiative which aims to prevent millions of tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere by not drilling for oil in the Amazon rainforest.   

The Yasuní-ITT initiative is a project launched by the Ecuadorian government which pledges to leave the estimated 850 million barrels of oil locked beneath the renowned Yasuní National Park despite the oil concessions which cover the region.

“This is the first ever offer by a government to forego oil development as a strategy to address climate change,” said Dr Matt Finer from Save America’s Forests. “According to Ecuadorian official estimates not exploiting the oil fields will keep 410 million metric tons of C02 out of the atmosphere. It’s a novel concept that not developing fossil fuels could be used as a tool to address climate change.”

“Yasuní National Park is an exceptional place in the world, biologically incredible, home to uncontacted indigenous people and yet, perhaps tragically, full of oil,” said co-author Dr Clinton Jenkins of the University of Maryland. “This initiative leaves society facing a test of what we value more, drilling for oil or preserving a cherished national park.”

The team also investigates the economic complexities underpinning the potentially precedent-setting initiative. The Ecuadorian economy is highly dependent on oil exports and this initiative will result in a yearly shortfall estimated to be $350 million per year.

“Ecuador intends to cover this by selling guarantee certificates linked to the value of unreleased carbon,” said co-author Remi Moncel of the World Resources Institute, “However, emissions could result from oil buyers turning to other suppliers. Also, if the certificates are traded on the European Union’s carbon credits market, the initiative would not result in a net reduction of carbon emissions.”

 The alternative is for supporting countries to donate to the initiative directly without claiming a carbon credit to pollute in return.

“The initiative’s trust fund will be activated by early November and will be backed by the United Nations Development Programme,” added Finer. “Germany will be the first to make a contribution, reported to be $50 to $70 million per year. This is to be followed by a world tour of high-level officials, including President Correa, who will be visiting London on the 27th October. This demonstrates how seriously the government of Ecuador is taking this initiative.”