U.N. Pays Ecuador Billions Not to Drill for Oil in National Park

Sal holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
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Trees trump oilmen in Ecuador. At least, some trees do for now. (Photo: Guillermo Granga/Reuters)

After a spate of bad-to-worse eco news—the Gulf spill disaster, the train wreck of the U.S. climate bill, and the possible death of up to 80 percent of tropical forest species by 2100—is it possible a ray of green is breaking through the smoggy haze of despair?

That ray of green is coming from the South American nation of Ecuador, where the government has signed a deal to receive $3.5 billion in exchange for not drilling for oil.

The money is being provided by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The biodiversity trust fund is the first of its kind in the world.

The accord will leave an estimated 846 million barrels of crude oil—that's 20 percent of the county's reserves—under the Yasuni National Park, one of the most ecologically diverse swaths of land in the world.

In 1989, the region was designated a World Biosphere Reserve.

“We still have to collect the funds for the initiative to become a reality,” said Ecuador’s Vice-President Lenin Moreno, in a statement. “We need industrialized countries to understand, in a spirit of shared responsibility, that what we have decided this historic morning is a sacrifice for our country.”

Officials estimate that a decision to drill for oil in Yasuni could have yielded Ecuador more than twice the $3.6 billion it will receive.

The UNDP estimates that 400 million tons of greenhouse gases will stay underground as a result of the no-drilling agreement.

So while Ecuador’s GDP might take a hit, the ozone layer will be spared.

Treehugger reports that the UNDP is considering expanding the money-for-biodiversity measures to other ecologically diverse nations.

"We are witnessing the inauguration of new instruments of cooperation, which will act as a basis for supporting other national and international efforts directed toward the search for economies that are in harmony with society, nature and the planet," said Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP associate administrator.

Ecuador's oil-drilling history is, at best, murky.

According to the Amazon Defense Coalition:

Chevron's illegal oil-related dumping is at the root of a class action lawsuit in Ecuador where the oil giant now faces more than $27 billion in damages for poisoning an area the size of Rhode Island with 18.5 billion gallons of toxic "produced water," or more than 474 times the amount of contamination estimated to have been spilled in the Gulf of Mexico tragedy, according to calculations made by representatives of the plaintiffs.

The pollution occurred from 1964 to 1990, when Texaco—now owned by Chevron—was the sole operator of a large oil well in the rainforest.

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