Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ECUADOR COMES UP WITH UNIQUE PLAN TO PRESERVE RAIN FORESTS

Christian Schwägerl, Spiegel, Germany - Ecuador is the first country in the world to announce plans to leave the oil reserves beneath its rainforests in the ground. The country wants foreign businesses, including German companies, to compensate it for making this sacrifice.

There are as many different types of wood growing on each hectare in the Yasuni rainforest in the northwestern Amazon as there are species in all of North America. Even rare species of animals, like the mountain tapir and the brown-headed spider monkey, exist in the region. This paradise is also home to a number of native tribes now living in complete isolation from the outside world.

There is more biological diversity in the Yasuni rainforest than almost anywhere else in the world. The virgin forest is protected by its status as a national park and UNESCO biosphere reserve, but for how much longer? Several oil companies are pressuring the government in the Ecuadoran capital of Quito to finally issue drilling licenses for the biosphere.

The Yasuni region sits atop Ecuador's largest known oil reserve, consisting of several hundred million barrels. Oil is the country's most important export. And although oil has not made Ecuador rich, without petrodollars and petro-jobs the country would likely be even poorer than it already is.

This makes a proposal that Ecuadoran Environment Minister Marcela Aguinaga has now advanced in Berlin and other European capitals all the more sensational. Ecuador is the first oil-producing nation to propose leaving crude oil reserves permanently in the ground.. . .

"The crude oil under Yasuni National Park is worth many billions of dollars," says Aguinaga. In the summer of 2008, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa made a first attempt to protect the rainforest and resources. He proposed that Western and Ecuadoran taxpayers each foot half the bill for the decision not to tap crude oil reserves in the environmentally sensitive area. But the initiative never bore fruit.

Now Correa is under pressure to give in to the oil companies after all. Hoping to prevent this from happening, Aguinaga submitted a new, and final, offer during a trip to Europe: that Ecuador be compensated mainly by Western companies, which could then sell the Yasuni oil in the virtual form of CO2 certificates.

But wherever Aguinaga goes she faces the same tough questions: What happens if the Saudis start demanding compensation for oil they don't produce? And what if a new government in Quito permits drilling for oil after all?

The model, Aguiaga argues, is only meant for regions where petroleum reserves are located beneath extremely biodiverse ecosystems. And the donors would be given the right to confiscate the oil if it does end up being produced.