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‘A valuable natural asset for the world’

Julia Henrichmann /ssMay 8, 2013

Can you save 400 million tons of CO2 and conserve the rich biodiversity of the Yasuni national park in Ecuador – all at the price of $3.6 billion? The Ecuadorean ambassador to Germany explains his point of view.

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador (ddp images/AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Image: AP

The Ecuadorean ambassador to Germany, Jorge Jurado, describes the Yasuni-ITT initiative as a milestone of global environmental policy. The plan proposed by Ecuador foresees leaving untouched 21 percent of the country’s oil reserves below the Yasuni national park, rich in biodiversity, and ask the world to compensate it with half its monetary value. It’s estimated that would prevent emissions of 400 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Global Ideas: Can the Yasuni-ITT model be transferred to other countries?

Jorge Jurado: As long as other countries demonstrate the political will, it can be transferred to other countries. That means that the country has to actually be prepared not to exploit a large share of its resources and thus make a contribution to humanity and the global protection of the environment. With the Yasuni-IIT initiative, we are protecting a valuable natural asset in Eucador that is of great significance for people around the world. This initiative bears the historic responsibility of industrialized nations for the negative effects of climate change and carbon emissions. I believe environmental projects of this kind offer the only chance to push through a global energy transition.

Beyond the fact that the Yasuni is the world’s most biologically diverse national park, you have to consider the fact that only very few countries with comparable biodiversity actually have any fossil fuels. That means this initiative can be copied by very few countries. A second reason why Eucador has set up this ecological initiative is linked to the Eucadorean constitution from 2008. The rights of nature are anchored in the constitution. So for the first time, nature has been recognized as a legal subject. In addition, the constitution foresees special collective rights of the indigenous population as well as an ecological right to life as a human right. That’s what we call buen vivir. (that’s loosely translated in English as “good living” and describes a way of doing things that’s community-centric and ecologically-balanced.)

What actually happens if not enough money is paid into the fund?

We indeed have not managed to collect as much money as we need. But we’re working on it and it’s our job to do that. Most organizations and governments agree with us when we drum up publicity for the project. But the moment they’re asked to step up and make financial contributions, they hold back. If the initiative doesn’t succeed, we will be forced to drill oil in the protected Yasuni reserve. We check every two years to see if the funds are enough. The next time we do that will be at the end of 2013.

You often speak in interviews of the "ecological blame“ of industrialized nations. What do you mean by that?

Countries in the South certainly bear less historic responsibility for global climate change compared with industrialized nations. But we’re as affected by the consequences as industrialized nations. Several studies show that temperatures continue to rise and we are facing global catastrophes. The unchecked growth of the world economy that we are seeing now cannot go on. And someone has to take responsibility. In Ecuador, we’re taking the path of “Buen Vivir” that I mentioned earlier. For us, that means living in dignity, in harmony with nature. We don’t need all the consumption and excess that industrialized societies have.

The government led by Rafael Correa was recently reelected. But still I’d like to ask, what would have happened to the Yasuni-IIT initiative under a different government?

I believe that another government would feel strong political pressure and a backlash from the Eucadorean population if they wanted to stop the project. Of course we can’t completely stop oil drilling in the south of the Ecudorean Amazon. But even a successive government would do well to continue with the Yasuni-ITT model project.