An odd alliance of governments, film stars, Japanese businesses, Russian institutions, and soft drink companies have come forward to help protect the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador from exploitation by oil companies.
Yasuní National Park in Ecuador has become the planet’s latest success story, with a United Nations “crowdfunding” initiative held Thursday night to raise $116 million, an amount needed to put a temporary halt to exploitation by the oil industry of 722 square miles of the Ecuadorian Amazon known as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil fields.
Ecuador had previously agreed to halting mining operations at the oilfield if it could generate 50 percent of the anticipated $7.6 billion in lost revenue by not mining. “It is not often that a government chooses sustainable development over easy money,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a September UN news release, referencing the Ecuadorian-UN accord.
The accord is part of a trust fund to protect Yasuní National Park, a World Biosphere Reserve, from exploitation of the region’s estimated 846 million barrels of crude oil lying beneath it.
“It is supporting indigenous livelihoods and culture. It is protecting biodiversity. It will help to avoid emissions of greenhouse gases. And it is showing the contribution that can be made through an innovative financial mechanism,” Mr. Ban continued.
Although the world’s leading conservation groups pledged not a dime, according to the Guardian, regional governments across the planet, including France and Belgium, came through in the Yasuní fundraising initiative. The Wallonia region of Belgium pledged $2 million. An investment banker from New York pledged her annual salary. Hollywood film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Bo Derek and Edward Norton contributed, as did U.S. politician Al Gore.
Pledges of government support from other countries included Chile, Columbia, Georgia and Turkey, each committing $100,000. Peru ($300,000), Australia ($500,000) and Spain ($1.4M) also came on board.
The plan of asking people to protect something by paying for an event to not occur was not without its skeptics, notably among them Germany’s development minister, Dirk Niebel, who said preventing oil exploitation “would be setting a precedent with unforeseeable referrals,” the Guardian reports. In the end, however, Germany is contributing $48 million in technical assistance.
Yasuní National Park biodiversity.
Italy’s contribution to the effort was a widely criticized act by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who wrote of $51M of Ecuador’s external debt of $10Bn.
Supporters of the initiative suggest the effort could be a role model for necessary change needed to protect vital places. Money raised for Yasuní is designated strictly for nature protection and renewable energy projects.
A group of scientists in 2010 documented Yasuní NP as setting a world’s record for the widest array of animal and plant groups, with proposed oil developments being the greatest threat to the region’s biodiversity.
“This study demonstrates that Yasuní is the most diverse area in South America, and possibly the world,” said Dr. Peter English, with the University of Texas at Austin, Science Daily reports. “Amphibians, birds, mammals and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity in Yasuní.”
The study, Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, published in the open-access PLoS One, called Yasuní “among the most biodiverse places on Earth, with apparent world richness records for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and trees.”
Yasuní also serves as protector of a considerable number of regional endemics and threatened species. It is Ecuador’s largest national park and has been the home of indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
A film about Yasuní’s richness, Yasuní, Two Seconds of Life, was produced to introduce the world to the richness of life found in the region and as a learning tool for protecting the Amazon rainforest.