The proposal set out by President Rafael Correa of Ecuador in May last year to preserve the Yasuní was a bold one, with inspiring principles behind it. For the first time a national government had sought international financial support to keep its oil underground: it had the potential to be revolutionary. If successful, it could provide a model for other developing nations across the world to save their own environmental and cultural treasures without having to sacrifice economic development.
However, there were also problems with Correa’s proposal to save this pristine patch of Amazon. It did not clearly guarantee the preservation of the Yasuní or respect the human rights of the people of the region, and excluded them from participating in the decisions that would drastically affect their lives. It set a time limit for financial pledges and left open the possibility that, even if funds were successfully raised from the international community, they could be repaid by the Ecuadorian Government and the half-a-billion barrels of oil under the Yasuní exploited after all.
Since the proposal was made there have been some positive advances. such as the Progressive environmental and human rights articles proposed for the country’s new Constitution. Two extensions have been madeto the initial deadline for international support. But,the weaknesses in the proposal have still not been strengthened. Contradictory proposals and policies have emerged, such as the granting of a licence to drill in another part of the Yasuní, and the promotion of the ‘Manta-Manaus corridor’ – a plan to convert the River Napo into a motorway for ships trading between Brazil and China.
On a local level, many things have not changed. Huge oil spills continue, while companies such as Repsol YPF refuse to take responsibility. Inside the Yasuní, local communities, such as the Dayuma, continue to be repressed and those speaking out against the multinational companies are arrested. The revolutionary aspects of the proposal are getting lost. It is shifting more and more into line with current free-market ideas, like carbon trading and ‘debt-for-nature-swaps’ - schemes that have already proven ineffective and immoral.
To get this proposal right, we need to get the principles right. The Yasuní Green Gold Campaign believes that the biosphere reserve is unique and that human life has no price. Paying for the Yasuní to remain unexploited undermines the human rights of those who live within the zone, as well as other national and international environmental laws that supposedly protect the park already.
Certainly, Ecuador should be given financial help to support the development of alternative economic activities, helping the country preserve its forests and escape oil dependency. This is not charity; it is necessary for the whole world in order to prevent climate change. Certainly, the Yasuní should be protected because of its unique biological, ecological and cultural importance. But these are separate issues. It is wrong to use the preservation of the Yasuní and the lives of people as bargaining chips, attempting to put a price on things which are priceless.
Yasuní Green Gold wants to encourage and support Ecuador’s Government to stay true to developing a bold proposal that does not sell off the Yasuní or its people for carbon credits or use them to cancel the national debt. We want them to remain committed to preserving the Yasuní and protecting its inhabitants, with no deadlines and no conditions. In naming it an ‘untouchable zone’ and signing up to human rights laws, that is what they have already said they would do.
This is hard work for a country so dependent on oil, and it is the responsibility of the international community to support them in making the transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy, especially because of the importance of such a move in preventing global climate change. Local and indigenous people must be actively involved in the development of such projects if they are to be successful.
If all this were to happen, then the rescue of Yasuní could go down in history as a revolutionary step along the path to climate justice.
on behalf of the Yasuní Green Gold campaign