New Internationalist

Anita’s visit puts Yasuní on the map

Phew. It's the end of our Grand Launch Week for the Yasuní campaign, and I think we've really got somewhere. Anita Rivas, the mayor of Orellana in the Yasuní region, arrived in the UK last weekend. In the space of just five days, and with a little help from her friends, she has managed to put Yasuní on the agendas of British MPs, government officials and even a minister (pictured below). 

Anita and Joan Ruddock, Minister for Energy and Climate Change

Her message was simple but powerful. 'The biggest issue today is climate change. By helping Yasuní, you will be helping the world.' Her aim was to persuade the British Government to support Ecuador's proposal to leave the oil in the ground and preserve the extraordinary Yasuní rainforest. But most importantly, she was here to ensure that the rights and needs of local and indigenous people are taken into account in the process.

The week has been a whirl of lobbying, meetings and interviews. We're all exhausted - though Anita doesn't have time to be, she's gone to Luxumbourg for the day to address local governments before heading down to Spain for another week's of campaigning. But I think it's been a storming success.

It began on Monday with a meeting with officials from three different government departments working on forests and climate change. They did not know about the proposal (despite it having been presented to the UN and the EU). So our crack campaign team, comprising Anita, Georgie and Ginés from the Yasuni Green Gold campaign, and Richard and I from NI, spent the rest of the week trying to put it on the Government's agenda.

Highlights included:
- A launch event, attended by 200 people including experts on Ecuador, forests, climate change and indigenous people. Speakers included Anita, the deputy Ambassador of Ecuador, and environmentalist Tony Juniper.
- Agreement from the Ecuadorian Embassy that they will formally approach the British Government with the proposal in the next few weeks.
- A promise from Steve Webb, Lib Dem spokesperson on energy and climate change, to meet with the Ecuadorian Ambassador about improving the proposal by allowing local people to participate in developing it.
- Going into Waterstones with Georgie, Gines and Anita, to find copies of the Yasuní Green Gold book on the shelves! (See photo below).
- A session in the House of Commons, chaired by Colin Challen MP who is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Climate Change. It was attended by MPs, Lords and a Baroness. The campaign received enthusiastic support and offers of help from two other APPGs.
- Colin Challen also tabled an Early Day Motion - which is like a petition for MPs to sign - in full support of the Yasuní Green Gold campaign. If you live in Britain, get in touch with your MP and ask them to sign EDM 2192!

In Waterstone's with Georgie, Gines and The Book!

It all culminated yesterday in a really positive meeting with new Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Joan Ruddock. She told us that 'the Government is in favour of such initiatives - our sympathies and goodwill are there.' It was clear that the door is open. As soon as the Ecuadorian embassy contacts her, she will begin to consider whether Britain can help make the plan happen.

So watch this space...

I'm worried though. It's easy to agree that the oil should stay in the ground in principle. The controversy begins with discussions about where the money is going to come from.

There's a real risk that Yasuní will be seized upon by carbon trading firms intent on turning it into a giant carbon offset, and the once visionary scheme will lose its integrity, its potential for involving and benefiting local people, and any contribution it might make to overall global carbon emissions reductions. Carbon trading lobbyists from three different banks turned up to the Yasuní Parliamentary event to express their enthusiasm for getting involved, and wanting to know who to lobby. Next week a report commissioned by the British Government will come out strongly in favour of financing forest preservation through the international carbon markets.

So, not content with allowing bankers to screw up our economy, we're now going to put them in charge of solving climate change???? Whatever planet these people are on, it's not going to last much longer at this rate.

The Yasuní campaign is about more than just finding the money to preserve the forest. It's about doing so in the right way. A way that is fair, and effective, and will benefit the local people who live there over the long term. As Anita put it:

'Carbon trading is a weak way of dealing with this problem - it's like putting the wrong sort of medicine in your body. This is about the larger countries needing to recognize that smaller countries like Ecuador are giving the world a lot in terms of ecology. They need to start giving something back; to change their exploitative attitude and start paying for what they are getting. This why the international campaign to save Yasuní is so important. There will be grave consequences for the world if it is not preserved.'

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