The Yasuni national Park in Ecuador, where the foothills of the Andes meet the Amazon rainforest on the equator, is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, and a treasure to be guarded tightly. So when 960 million barrels of oil were discovered beneath the Yasuni park back in 2007, enough to earn Ecuador $7 billion, many began to fear that this ecological haven would be totally destroyed.
Luckily for the Amazon rainforest, Ecuador’s oil and mines minister at the time of the discovery was Albert Acosta, a radical ecologist, and current presidential candidate. He looked at the effect that oil had had on Ecuador and decided that whilst “it has helped our infrastructure,” it has also “brought us immense contamination and environmental destruction. Oil has not solved the problems of Ecuador.”
The Yasuni find represented a big economic boost to Ecuador, but it would also send the oil industry deeper into the rainforest, causing more destruction and contamination to the endangered environment.
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He explained his despair at the destruction that the oil industry did to his country. “I knew the oil industry. I used to work in it. I could see the monster from the inside. I began to think we were poor because of our resources. I called it the curse of abundance.”
On the one hand Acosta despised the destruction that oil was doing to the rainforest, but on the other he could not deny his people the wealth that the oil would bring to the country. His solution came in the form of a revolutionary new scheme that he created in which the oil would be left in the ground, untouched, as long as Ecuador was paid half its value, around $3.6 billion.
Acosta stated that, “oil is unsustainable. We must see it in the long term. Climate change is a limit and we can't continue to keep burning oil. Perhaps we must change our model of life. We cannot live without nature but nature can live without us.”
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In 2010 president Rafael Correa announced that Acosta’s plan would be followed, and that Ecuador would never touch the oil under the Yasuni national park, as long as the rest of the world gave his country $3.6 billion over the next 13 years.
The UN set up the Yasuni fund, which now holds more than $300 million, donated by governments, institutions, companies, and individuals, from Japan, Europe, and the US. The money does not go to the government, but rather into a public fund which is used purely to develop alternative energy projects.
Ivonne Baki, the secretary of state for the Yasuni initiative, commented, “so far, so good. The world is watching. If this succeeds it may open a new era of conservation. If it fails, it will discourage developing countries from adopting bold climate measures."
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com