New Internationalist

Time is ticking for Ecuador’s Yasuní


An indigenous dweller of the Yasuní rainforest. Photo by filmdelights.

‘Leave the oil underground’ is the slogan referring to Ecuador's Yasuní-ITT initiative that was launched in 2007 by President Rafael Correa to save the Yasuní rainforest – one of the world's most bio-diverse habitats and home to indigenous people.

All he asked for was to be fairly compensated by the rest of the world.

The proposal was simple: if industrialized countries pay half of the revenue Ecuador would get for exploiting the oil under its rainforest, about $3.6 billion over 10 years, Ecuador could then invest solely in sustainable energy projects and the Yasuní rainforest would be left untouched.

But four years later not only is international commitment to this extraordinary approach still lacking but it seems that hardly anyone knows anything about it.

I must confess, largely due to lack of coverage in the European media, I hadn't heard of this proposal either until the autumn of 2010. This was when I started to collaborate with the international team that had made the documentary 'Yasuní – Two Seconds of Life'.



When plunging into this project, I soon discovered its complexity. So let me give you some more background information.

An estimated 920 million barrels of oil lie beneath the Yasuní national park. This equals a potential income of $720 million per year over 10 years. Ecuador – one of the world's poorest countries – is clearly making an effort to find its way out of its oil dependency and towards a sustainable future. This will have, of course, a positive influence on the whole planet, as our lives depend on the Earth's ‘green lungs’.

The Yasuní rainforest is an unbelievable treasure of nature. According to ScienceDaily it contains more species of trees and bushes in one hectare alone than in the whole of the US and Canada combined. More than a thousand plant species have been identified so far, along with 600 bird species, 150 amphibian species, and an estimated 100,000 insect species. A great number of these animals and plants can only be found in this extraordinary habitat along with the indigenous people of the Tagaeri, Taromenane and Waorani.


TheYasuní rainforest is teeming with wildlife. Photo by filmdelights.

In August 2010, the UN established the Yasuní-ITT trust fund in order to ensure the necessary transparency for all parties involved. As negotiations on the political level seem to be difficult, the UN is also promoting the possibility for private individuals to contribute.

When starting the distribution of the film, we knew that the clock was ticking. The proposal was made in 2007 and several deadlines had already been postponed. The latest official deadline is December 2011. Ecuador needs a sign of the world community allowing it to go through with its initiative: it is asking for $100 million by the end of this year, otherwise it will consider selling oil drilling leases.

Although climate change is much talked about nowadays and the Yasuní-ITT initiative is opening up a completely new approach (i.e. preserving an intact rainforest instead of first destroying and then restoring it), we soon realized that it is difficult to get people's attention. Apparently, when you're in Europe, Ecuador seems to be so far away – too far to believe that its actions could also affect us.

But the nice thing is, once we have an audience in the cinema or at special events, the response can be overwhelming. We receive emails from people who offer their support and organize events in order to raise awareness. And although at the moment the Yasuní-ITT initiative still seems to be far from being successful, I feel like there's finally light at the end of the tunnel.

Since August 2011, there has been more media coverage and lots of small initiatives that keep promoting this innovative proposal around the globe. Bo Derek recently showed her support and gave an interview on CNN, and there has also been coverage in The Guardian as well as Germany's Die Zeit and on Australian ABC radio.

This does not mean we can lean back now, but rather that we need to keep pushing (and by ‘we’ I mean every reader of this article or viewer of the film), so that the Yasuní initiative can finally be a success.

Click here for information on how you can support the initiative and the film.

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