The idea that oil should be left in the ground has just been given a major boost. After much prevarication, the Ecuadorian government has finally signed a groundbreaking deal to preserve the Yasuní rainforest, by locking up a fifth of the country's oil reserves indefinitely. The New Internationalist has been following this story for a long time. We even published a book about it! And from what we can tell, this does look like genuinely exciting progress.
This extraordinarily biodiverse stretch of Amazon, home to many indigenous peoples, has long been under threat from oil companies. But after many twists and turns, President Correa’s government, in partnership with the UN Development Programme, has set up a $3.6 billion trust fund, into which rich nations are asked to pay compensation for the country’s lost oil revenue.
The funds – around half of the current market value of the oil – will be spent on renewable energy and sustainable development projects to move the country onto a low carbon path. Some money has already been pledged by European governments, but much is still to be raised. Most pleasingly, the initiative is purposefully distancing itself from carbon markets, presenting this trust fund as an alternative to the increasingly discredited practice of trading in pollution credits.
Carlos Larrea, the initiative’s technical advisor, told the Independent on Sunday: ‘We hope individuals and environmentally aware companies all over the world will be excited by what we’re doing and want to contribute as a gesture of solidarity. Supporters will be symbolically “buying” their barrel of oil with the guarantee it will stay underground.’
There are many questions still to be answered about how the initiative will work in practice. Perhaps most importantly, will local indigenous communities have any say in how the money is spent? And will the Ecuadorian government halt the ongoing incursions by oil companies into other nearby pristine stretches of Amazon?
The New Internationalist will continue to follow and report on the initiative's progress, warts and all. But for now, let's all celebrate this rare piece of good news!