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Ecuador: Voters reject oil drilling in the Amazon

August 21, 2023

Ecuadorians have said 'no' to oil extraction in a portion of the Amazon, one of the world's most biodiverse regions, in a referendum hailed as a historic example of climate democracy.

Aerial of the Yasuni National Park
The Yasuni National Park was designated a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1989Image: Ferrari/Avalon/picture alliance

Ecuadorians voted on Sunday against oil drilling, according to early results of an election-day referendum published early Monday.

Voters were asked whether to ban mining in the highlands and further oil drilling in Yasuni National Park in the Amazon. With over 90% of the ballots counted, some six in 10 Ecuadorians rejected the oil exploration in Block 44, situated within Yasuni National Park, one of the world's most biodiverse regions.

The referendum asked voters if they agreed with stopping all oil exploration in the area, and the "Yes" vote won by 59%, according to Ecuador's electoral body.

"Today Ecuador takes a giant step to protect life, biodiversity, and indigenous people," the country's two main indigenous organizations, Confeniae and Conaie, posted on social media.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also hailed the "historic referendum."

The referendum took place alongside the presidential election, which will be decided in a runoff between leftist candidate Luisa Gonzalez and right-wing contender Daniel Noboa.

Ecuador: Could oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest end?

The country is currently grappling with political instability after the assassination of one of the candidates, Fernando Villavicencio.

Preserving Amazonian biodiversity

In 1989, Yasuni was designated a world biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO.

Covering an expanse of over 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres), it boasts 610 species of birds, 139 species of amphibians, and 121 species of reptiles.

At least three species are endemic. The reserve is home to the Waorani and Kichwa tribes, as well as the Tagaeri, Taromenane and Dugakaeri, who choose to live isolated from the modern world.

Oil company to dismantle operations

The outcome represents a significant blow to Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso, who advocated for oil drilling, emphasizing "its pivotal role for the country's economy." 

Lasso has estimated a loss of $16 billion (€14 billion) over the next 20 years if drilling is halted. As a result of the vote, state oil company Petroecuador will be required to dismantle its operations in the coming months.

Prior to the vote, Petroecuador had permission to exploit 300 hectares, but the company has said it only used 80 hectares.

ai/jcg (AFP, AP)