Here’s the dilemma: 846 million barrels of oil, or 20% of your country’s reserves, are buried under one section of a national park. Extracting the oil could provide income, jobs, and growth for the region. Of course, that could also lead simply to exploitation of your country’s resources and people while leading to degradation of one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet; a region that has at least 655 tree species in a single hectare forest. That’s more species than the total number of tree species recorded in Canada and the United States combined. Ecotourism and as yet undeveloped or undiscovered medicines could be a source of income from the forest. Do you take the oil or let it sit in the ground? Is there a way to make up the income lost by not extracting the oil? If the country is Ecuador, the forest in question is Yasuni National Park, and your president’s name is Rafael Correra, one answer to the questions above is to try to get the world to pay you cash for leaving the forest intact. From a Financial Times story,
[Ecuador] will refrain from developing the reserves beneath Yasuni national park and leave the forest untouched, if the outside world will compensate the country with half the money it would thereby forgo. Extracting the oil would yield $7.2bn for Ecuador’s government. Rafael Correa, president, is asking for $3.6bn over 13 years in return for leaving the reserves in the ground. If this unprecedented scheme wins the required support, it should guarantee the future of those who inhabit this unspoiled region of the Amazon basin.
Of course, the unusual offer to leave the oil untouched has a catch: “unless the first $100m arrives by the end of this year, the proposal will die.”
There are already programs designed to conserve forests, such as the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) Programme. Launched in 2008, REDD is “a mechanism to create an incentive for developing countries to protect, better manage and wisely use their forest resources, contributing to the global fight against climate change. REDD strategies aim to make forests more valuable standing than they would be cut down, by creating a financial value for the carbon stored in trees. Once this carbon is assessed and quantified, the final phase of REDD involves developed countries paying developing countries carbon offsets for their standing forests.”
Ecuador’s proposal does not fall under REDD or any other established forest conservation plan, so the odds of succeeded are somewhat diminished. For example, Norway recently agreed to give Indonesia $1bn in return for a two-year moratorium on deforestation permits. But Ecuador is seeking compensation for lost oil revenues, not avoided deforestation and thus Norway has not pledged anything towards the initiative so far.
Will other countries, organizations, or individuals be generous enough to pledge the first $100 million? Does it make sense for any government or entity to make such a donation? I guess we’ve got a little less than a year to find out.
[Image: 2nd Green Revolution]