Will Ecuador’s President Correa Shoot the Trees in Yasuni National Park?
By Ron Zucker
Ecuador hosts the Parqué Nacional Yasuni, a 3,800 square mile park of singular beauty and biodiversity and home to many indigenous people. Remote and situated at the intersection of the Andes, the Amazon region and the equator, this rain forest is one of the world’s wildest places. Unfortunately, it also sits on top of a bed of oil that, in 2007, was valued at $7 billion. That made it potentially worth more to Ecuador devastated and drilled than it was as a park. So President Rafael Correa came up with an idea.
There is a lot of talk, particularly at the World Bank and other world economic leaders, of “Payments for Ecosystem Services.” Under this theoretical framework, we’ll turn our natural resources into a bank and actually pay Ecuador for not drilling. You heard that right. To protect a national park, citizens would need to pay-off those those who seek to destroy it for profit.
President Correa challenged people who want to protect Yasuni National Park, by setting up a world fund at the UN to give Ecuador half the value of the oil, about $3.6 billion. The Ecuadorian government would then leave the oil in the ground and not exploit the fossil fuel resource in this delicate ecosystem.
After five years, at the end of 2012, the fund had $6.5 million in it. The plan is now abandoned.
The financialization of nature allows those with money to determine what another area’s ecosystem is worth. That is not a bug or a flaw in the system. It defines the system. But when it comes time to put up the money, the developed world can decide if it wants to do so and where.
In a country that constitutionalized the rights of nature in 2008, this move to drill the Yasuni is particularly painful and thousands of people have filled the streets in marches across the country. Attempts are now underway to collect signatures from five percent of the 10 million voters to force a referendum and polls show that the majority of Ecuadorans oppose drilling in the Yasuni.
President Correa (himself a U.S.-educated economist) asked the world to pay-to-protect this ecosystem, a method economists claim is the most efficient way to protect the planet, or Ecuador would be forced to damage the ecosystem to pay for the things that its people need. In effect, he said, “Pay me or I’ll shoot the trees.” The world suggested that shooting the trees was his best option. And the environment, from which we all benefit, will pay the price.