23 May 2007 - 09:11
  • News Code: 105354

A novel proposal by Ecuador is testing world leaders’ commitment to fight global warming and preserve the biodiversity of the Earth.

Ecuadorian officials told an international meeting last week that their government would ban exploitation of huge oil reserves if it was compensated for its effort to save the natural habitat of the Amazon region.

The untapped oil reserves are located in the heart of the Amazon, considered by scientists to be one of the most bio-diverse rainforests in the world. If explored and developed, the fields are expected to deliver more than 900 million barrels of oil.

“If the world truly is interested in saving the planet,“ said Ecuador’s representative Lourdes Tiban, “the government has decided to sell the oil, but keep it in the ground.“

Tiban added in her statement that Ecuador would need financial assistance from the international community in exchange for the decision not to exploit the oil. The country will wait up to a year to determine if there has been an adequate response.

“I call on the UN agencies, member states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to consider our proposal,“ she said at the sixth annual meeting of the world body’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Her appeal came nearly two months after the energy ministry in Ecuador declared that it was ready to leave the oil in the ground because it did not want to harm an area of “extraordinary biodiversity“.

But ministry officials warned that they would be able to implement this decision only if and when the world community delivered “at least one-half of the resources“ likely to be generated by oil extraction.

“The international community has to compensate us for the immense sacrifice that a poor country like Ecuador would have to make,“ said President Rafael Correa in a recent radio address.

Correa estimates the compensation figure at around 350 million dollars a year.

Ecuador doesn’t ask for charity,“ he said, “but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice.“

The recently-elected left-wing government says that oil revenues are vital for social development because more than half of its 13 million citizens live in abject poverty.

Ecuador is currently burdened with 15 billion dollars of external debt, including a substantial amount owed to the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.

While apparently pleased with the government’s position, leaders of the indigenous people of Yasuni National Park in the Amazon say they are not convinced that those in power would keep their promise.

“We want Carlos to be fired,“ said Moi Enomenga, leader of the Waorani indigenous people on whose lands the possible extraction would take place, referring to Carlos Pareja Yanuzeli, the head of the state-owned Petro-Ecuador oil company. “They are destroying our lands. We don’t want any oil companies in our area.“

Yanuzeli is viewed by indigenous people as a staunch advocate for oil companies.

According to indigenous leaders, without seeking their permission, some oil companies, including Spain’s Repsol and Brazil’s Petrobras, are already operating in the area, which spans over two million hectares of rainforest.

The oil reserves are located in indigenous territory known as “Ishapingo-Tiputini-Tambococha (ITT),“ which lies within the boundaries of the Yasuni National Park, an area designated a “biosphere reserve“ by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

According to the World Conservation Union, the Yasuni Park is home to 25 species threatened by extinction, including the tapir, the largest land mammal on the continent, and 10 monkey species. The forest is also one of the most diverse places in the world for bird and tree species.

The Waorani people, who live in voluntary isolation in the ITT zone, are renowned for their giant spears. Their survival is completely dependent upon the rainforest.

Supporters of indigenous peoples’ rights from the scientific community say Correa’s appeal for compensation is an unprecedented chance to work with a progressive government in order to save one of the wildest and most abundant spots on Earth.



News Code 105354

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