You cant expect countries just to save rainforest because theyre amazing places and we would, as humans, like to keep them around, she said. Given the potential to make oil money from here, I think its a remarkably generous offer to say to the rest of the world Can you contribute and we wont develop this area.
Ecuador needs the money. One of the poorest nations in South America, oil represents more than half of its export earnings and is the countrys top source of revenue.
Keeping oil underground is like a very poor family trying to protect the family jewels, in the meantime most of the people are starving to death, said David Romo, one of the directors of the University of San Francisco de Quitos Tiputini Biodiversity Station, which borders the park and where Coley was doing her research. So how do you do the trade-off here? The initiative gives us an option for that.
Ivonne Baki is the former Ecuadorean ambassador to the United States, a one-time presidential candidate who speaks six languages. Now, shes traveling the world on behalf of the government, marshaling resources for the project.
While the initiative has seen a groundswell of popular support, she admits the financing has been disappointing. The government is considering Plan B, which includes tapping the oil in the ITT block in a conscientious way. But keeping the oil underground is still the administrations priority, she said.
We believe in conserving and we have done it before, she said. Twenty-five percent of Ecuadors territory is in a national park or protected area, including the world-renowned Galapagos Islands. By contrast, 12 percent of the United States is under protection, according to the World Database on Protected Areas.
The Yasuní-ITT Initiative is an environmental service we are providing to the world, not just Ecuador, Baki said.
But the world seems deaf to the plea. While countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey and Luxembourg have supported the effort, the United States Ecuadors largest oil buyer and which has a long and troubled history of polluting the Amazon has not contributed to the effort. Neither have gas guzzling nations like China, Japan or India.
Baki speculated that crude-consuming nations fear the model might be replicated and push fuel prices higher.
But critics say the country also has a credibility issue. The socialist-leaning Correa administration has broken pledges in the past, defaulting on the national debt in 2008, and unilaterally forcing oil companies to renegotiate their contracts.
And while the country touts the initiative, its already exploring for oil in Yasuní National Park and has begun building a road in oil block 31, adjacent to the ITT area. Its also building a massive new refinery thats designed to process more oil than the country is currently producing.
It might seem like the government is operating in bad faith, said Ivonne Yánez, one of the founders of the Acción Ecológica environmental group. On one hand, they seem to be pushing Plan B, which is to extract the petroleum, and on the other hand there is Plan A that Ms. Baki is promoting.
Yánez said the governments mixed messages are likely hurting international support for the initiative.