The End of Ecuador’s Conservation Innovation

Words by Zoe Rasbash

Yesterday, the first images of the suspected PetroAmazonas oil pipeline were released. Satellite images reveal the pipeline snaking across one of the oldest and most bio-diverse areas of the Amazon rainforest, the Yasunî National Park in Ecuador, arguably the most contentious oil drilling sites of the last decade.

But there is a reason it’s barely been in the news: the site is well-militarised, the government not allowing independent media anywhere close. The construction of this duct symbolises a failure of the Ecuadorian government, and the breakdown of one of the most exciting conservation initiatives to come out of the millennia.

In 2007, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador faced a dilemma, the outcome of which would define the countries economy for generations to come. The Yasunî National Park sits on rich oil wells, 20% of the countries proven reserves, and large energy conglomerates were jostling for access. Though a fiscally sensible option, Ecuador has previously suffered social and environmental catastrophes at the hands of large oil companies.

Image by: Planet with analysis by MAAP and Google Earth Imagery.

Corrupt energy companies have implemented inconsiderate and unsuitable infrastructures, all in the name of Ecuador’s development. PetroEcuador reportedly has over 400 oil spills a year, causing vast damage to eco-systems. Dutch Shell workers destroyed Waorani tribes land, using prejudiced rhetoric and claiming their oil activities were essential for modernisation. Companies have been known to bribe indigenous people with narcotics and liquor, relocating and exploiting those without the means to fight.

 The Yusanî-ITT project, constructed by Correa’s government, offered a way to circumvent oil extraction: by asking the international community to donate $3.6 billion in exchange for leaving the forest untouched. The aim of the initiative envisioned six goals; a transition to a stable economy, creation of jobs in the renewable sector, retaining biodiversity and social equality and to protect indigenous communities. What seems like a drastic and largely self-interested request becomes more fathomable when one understands the impacts it could have on the international community.

Tim Laman, Yasuni National Park, Mist above the river

The oil reserves beneath the national park are worth over double what Correa was asking for. This kind of long term, sacrificial policy making is groundbreaking for the future of environmental conservation. By understanding that oil revenue cannot sustain a country economically in the future global arena, Ecuador, unlike the rest of the world, were creating energy initiatives based on the long term.

 One could argue, yes, the Ecuadorian policies are clearly forward thinking, but why should other countries bother to invest – what is to gain for the donator? Besides the goodwill of contributing to peace and stability for our fellow man, of course. Leaving the Yasunî oil reserves underground would avoid the emission of 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, and stop the destruction of one of the globes largest carbon sinks.

In a world on the precipice of environmental disaster, we should be supporting each other towards a greener, more equitable future. Ecuador risks so much, in a developing economy, to avoid the pitfalls of oil imperialism in an economic climate which makes it almost impossible to avoid. An economic climate Western industrialisation has created.

In 2012, only $200 million had been pledged and by 2013 President Correa concluded the economic results were inefficient. One of the most exciting conservation initiatives, unseen in its sacrifice and consideration of indigenous populous, had to be scrapped.

 ‘The world has failed us’ said President Correa, August 15th 2013. More accurately, the West has failed us. And Western failures echo all across the globe.

For all our ‘post-colonial’ promises of new beginnings and equal rights, Western governments and corporations continue to ignore the indigenous voice, the voice of developing countries, the people. The progressive justice we guarantee is forgotten when fiscally inconvenient. Oil imperialist values champion time and time again. These conflicts are happening everyday; we can see the indigenous voice of struggling again, as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protest against the Dakota Oil Pipeline in the US. When will the West invest in socially and environmentally progressive and sustainable futures?


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