The Yasuni-ITT Initiative

by Dr. Ivonne Baki, Plenipotentiary Representative of Ecuador

Yasuni National Park, part of the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle, is probably the most biodiverse place on the planet. Home to many unique and endemic species, the national park, almost 1 million hectares in size,1 was declared by UNESCO a “World Biosphere Reserve” in 1989. This biodiversity hotspot has been reported to contain 593 species of birds, 2,274 species of trees, 80 species of bats, 150 species of amphibians, 121 species of reptiles, and 4,000 species of vascular plants. There are also more than 100,000 species of insects per hectare. Far from the interference and destruction of civilization, it is a living laboratory where life flourishes in a complex equilibrium with nature, a magical place where new species have evolved and are still evolving.

Yasuni National Park is also home to Waorani and Kichwa communities, as well as the Taromenane and Tagaeri, two other indigenous groups in voluntary isolation, looking to preserve their ancient cultures and traditions.

In 1972, Ecuador became an oil exporter, and since then, this resource has been the main source of income of the national economy. Recently, large deposits of heavy crude oil have been identified in the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) fields, located in Yasuni National Park. These reserves represent around 846 million barrels of heavy crude oil. Not surprisingly, the petroleum industry’s eyes are focused on that fragile piece of land, in the hope to start extracting what represents as much as 20 percent of the national oil reserves.

Most experts and scientists agree that if Ecuador decides to extract the oil from Yasuni National Park, the opening of roads, deforestation, and contamination associated with oil exploitation will lead to the extinction of many of its unique species.

During the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, President Rafael Correa announced that Ecuador had decided to forego the exploitation of oil in the Yasuni-ITT area, a substantial sacrifice for a small developing country whose economy still depends on petroleum, choosing to put social and environmental values first, while exploring other ways to benefit the country economically.

The Yasuni-ITT Initiative was born from this proposal. It aims at preserving Yasuni National Park’s biodiversity by foregoing the exploitation of petroleum in the most pristine part of the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle, known as the lungs of the planet. By leaving this petroleum underground, the government of Ecuador is contributing to combating global warming by avoiding the emission of approximately 407 million tons of carbon dioxide.

In exchange, the Ecuadorian government seeks the financial contribution of the international community as a gesture of coresponsibility in the fight against climate change. It is estimated that the exploitation of petroleum would generate USD 7.25 billion2 over the next 12 years, the time it would take for the reserve to be completely exploited. The Ecuadorian government is seeking half of that amount in order to preserve this delicate part of the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle, with the perspective of shifting from an "extractivist" economy to an economy based on the development of renewable energies.

The contributions coming from governments, private sector, and civil society to support the Yasuni-ITT Initiative are deposited in a trust fund administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). A significant portion of the fund will be invested in renewable energy projects, and the interest produced by the fund will be allocated to reforestation and conservation projects, social development projects in the area covered by the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, and projects aimed at avoiding deforestation and promoting energy efficiency and research and development.

By contributing to the fund, you are not only helping fight climate change, you are helping fund the preservation of thousands of endemic species living in a fragile environment threatened to disappear if it is at all altered. It's up to all of us to protect Yasuni National Park. We now have a chance to be remembered as a generation who left a legacy: allowing our children and our children's children to continue living in a wonderfully biodiverse planet.

1. Editor’s note: Yasuni’s nearly 1 million hectares equals 2.4 million acres (one hectare = 2.47 acres). By comparison, Yellowstone National Park in the US is 2.2 million acres; the areas of US states Delaware and Rhode Island combined would be 2.6 million acres.

2. The revenues that the Ecuadorian state would receive if the oil were to be extracted would have a present value of USD 7.25 billion, (based on the benchmark price of USD 76.38 per barrel of WTI crude, as of September 14, 2010). The 407 million tons of CO2 that would be generated by burning the ITT oil are valued at USD 8.07 billion (according to the current prices in the European ETS market of USD 19.81 per ton of CO2-eq EUA , as of September 14, 2010).