Ecuador wants money not to drill
President asks Europe to pay his country $4bn not to drill for oil in the Amazon.
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2009 16:30 GMT

Ecuador's president is in London this week to promote a unique proposal: pay his country around $4 billion not to drill for oil in a pristine Amazon reserve.

Germany and Spain have expressed interest in Rafael Correa's idea, which environmentalists say could set a precedent in the fight against global warming by lowering the high cost to poor countries of going green.

Correa is scheduled to meet with British MPs on Wednesday to discuss the proposal and plans to travel to Canada, France, Sweden, Belgium and the United States in November.

Old idea

The June 2008 deadline for this proposal to save Yasuní has been extended, but time is running out and the oil companies are poised, ready to drill.

"This is the first time the government of a major oil-producing country has voluntarily offered to forego lucrative oil extraction in order to help combat climate change," Matt Finer, a staff scientist for Save America's Forests and author of a study on Correa's initiative, said.

The proposal to save Yasuní has been extended, however, time is running out

But Correa's idea is two years old and he has yet to receive a firm cash commitment.

Under the plan, rich countries would pay Ecuador at least half the revenues that the 850 million barrels of heavy crude oil estimated to be in Ecuador's remote Yasuni National Park would be expected to generate over the next 10 years - or about $4 billion.

Ecuador says not drilling for the oil would keep 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, a figure that has caught the attention of green-conscious governments in Europe.

But this month, Germany contradicted Ecuador's claims that it had already committed $50 million over 13 years to the initiative.

"The amount of a potential donation and the method and period over which it would be paid have yet to be determined," Associated Press quoted an unnamed German government official as saying last week in Berlin.

The official said Germany supports the idea but its participation is dependent on recruiting other donors and expanding the amount of land protected from development under the initiative.

Oil reserves

Correa's proposal would block drilling in three oil fields in Yasuni, but it does not explicitly prohibit development in the rest of the park.

"The amount of a potential donation and the method and period over which it would be paid have yet to be determined"

German government official

Alec Van Gelder, from the UK-based international policy network, told Al Jazeera: "The president claims to be representing all of the groups interested in this issue. But I'm worried the way that this scheme is being propsed, who will get this money.

"Is this money going to go to the people at stake here? The people living in the areas where all the deposits exist? My suspicion is no."

It was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations and is home to Amazon Indian tribes living in voluntary isolation.

In Ecuador, companies can drill in national parks if a president deems it a matter of national interest.

While Spain is still considering how much to donate, it has already spent $200,000 to help Ecuador set up a fund to implement the project, Spain's top Latin America official, Juan Pablo de Laiglesia, told Ecuador's El Comercio newspaper this month.

Fander Falcon, Ecuador's foreign minister, says the international trust fund will be ready by mid-November.

Carolina Azevedo, the United Nations Development Programme spokeswoman, said Ecuador has requested technical support to manage the fund.

Ecuador is a member of the Organistion of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) that depends on oil for a third of its national budget.

The three oil fields in Yasuni represent 20 per cent of its crude oil reserves.

In our video, Lucia Newman reports from the remote Yasuni region, a part of the Amazon rainforest of extraordinary but fragile ecological and cultural richness in eastern Ecuador.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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