Protecting Ecuador's Yasuni National Park: $3.6bn well spent

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14 January 2011, Oil, Nuclear, Solar, Wind

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In an effort to limit global warming, the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD) provides financial flows which are equal to the value of carbon stored in national forests. These revenues are intended as compensation for lost income, which developing nations would have otherwise accrued from timber logging, farming, and other economic activities.

While the exact details around monitoring and calculating carbon savings still remain to be discussed, Norway, Denmark, and Spain have already made substantial contributions to the UN-REDD Programme Fund. For example, Guyana will receive approximately $250m until 2015, in a joint effort to curb climate change. This payment is a recognition of Guyana's provision of "eco-system services," which keep the carbon stores of tropical rainforests intact. Similarly, Norway agreed to pay Indonesia $1bn for a two-year moratorium on deforestation.

Ecuador aims to participate in a similar maneuver to protect the Yasuni National Park, which is located above nearly 20% of Ecuador's oil reserves. As part of the Amazon, the national park is an incredibly species-rich rainforest, measuring nearly one million hectares (10,000 square kilometers). In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to assign legally enforceable rights to the protection of natural ecosystems in its constitution.

However, crude oil is one of the country's most important commodities. Ecuador has offered to refrain from extracting the oil located in the park for 13 years, in return for $3.6bn in forfeited revenues from international contributors. At the United Nations General Assembly in August 2010, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa delivered an ultimatum to the leaders of developed nations to transfer funds of $100m during 2011, in order to ensure immediate protection of the oil and the park.

While UN-REDD currently allows Ecuador to protect its unique biodiversity as one of the world's 17 "mega-diverse" countries, it is unclear whether the proposed project falls within the remit of the fund. Ecuador's intentions are to prevent deforestation and carbon emissions caused by the extraction and burning of oil; however, the problem lies in the fact that UN-REDD was designed to prevent emissions specifically from deforestation in developing countries.

It is understandable that Ecuador seeks to be compensated for the financial losses incurred as a result of leaving its oil reserves in the Yasuni National Park intact. As it is, the unusual circumstances of the situation and the government's casual ultimatum have left potential partners unimpressed. In the meantime, waiting for clarification rather than following through with a partnership to protect the Yasuni National Park will lead to the irreversible destruction of areas of outstanding beauty and biodiversity.

Source: Datamonitor

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