By Joan Martinez-Alier, Nnimmo Bassey and Patrick Bond

As it was expected since February 2013 when president Correa won again the presidency of Ecuador, and even before given his track record since 2009 of internally boycotting the Yasuni ITT initiative, oil drilling has been announced in the ITT fields (Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini) inside the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. There is oil extraction in blocks 16 and 31 inside the Park already. The ITT is the last one to fall (depending now on the popular reaction in Ecuador and around the world).

Correa on 15th August blamed the rest of the world for not providing funds amounting to 3.6 billion dollars over 12 years (and therefore about one billion for the first three years) since the Trust Fund under UNDP auspices was formed on 3rd August 2010. True, some foreigners (and particularly minister of cooperation Dirk Niebel from Germany) bear a part of the blame. Norway and its Oil Fund (swimming in oil money) refused to help.

The proposal was for Ecuador to renounce to extraction of about 850 million barrels of oil (about 9 days of world extraction), preserve unparalled biodiversity, preserve the rights of local indigenous peoples and avoid carbon emissions of about 410 million tons of CO2. Ecuador asked for about half the forgone revenues of over 7 billion USD at present value. Hence the figure of 3.6 billion USD for outside contribution, under principles of co-responsability. Up to now, the money collected amounts only to tens of million dollars in actual fact, plus formal promises of about 300 million, which is not bad.

Correa now stated solemnly yesterday in Quito, “we have waited long enough”, “the world has failed us”, we need the oil to fight poverty, no damage will be done to the environment, the oil in ITT is worth nearly 20 billion dollars at present value and a few other lies. He dismissed art. 71 of the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador giving rights to nature. In fact, Correa has failed the world.

It is well known that the president Correa himself never liked the proposal, that came from environmental groups like Acción Ecológica and others in Ecuador and from Alberto Acosta, when he was minister for energy and mines in 2007. True, Correa has sometimes spoken eloquently in favour of the Yasuni ITT Initiative. But in practice in December 2009 he boycotted the signature of the MoU for the Trust Fund with UNDP, he did not go to the COP in Copenhagen himself where this signature was to take place in front of the world press, he then forced the resignation of the competent Ecuadorian team (Roque Sevilla, Yolanda Kakabadse) and his own minister for foreign relations, ecological economist Fander Falconi. Later, in August 2010, when the Trust Fund was finally set up, he did not appear at the signature of the agreement with UNDP in Quito, he merely sent his vicepresident.

In the meantime since 2010 feeble attempts have been made by a second rate team in Quito to collect some funds from abroad, while preparations in situ for drilling in Tiputini were increasingly obvious for all to see. Now, the only hope that remains is the reaction from the people of Ecuador. The Yasuni ITT has been very popular inside the country. Fander Falconí, who rejoined the government in 2011, has resigned again. It remains to be seen whether there are any other resignations from ministers from Alianza PAIS, Correa’s party.

We know that concentration of CO2 in the world is reaching 401 ppm, that nothing or too little is being done by the world political and economic powers against climate change, that the Amazon is being deforested in all the frontiers in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela… The Amazon is one of the worst places in the world to drill for oil. There is danger to the lives of indigenous peoples. The ITT oil is of bad quality, heavy oil, and it will produce terrible pollution locally while, when burnt in the importing countries, it will of course produce CO2.

Reaction from Nnimmo Bassey
The excuse of the president that the world failed Ecuador is weak and lame. He failed the peoples of Ecuador and the world. This act brings to the fore the critical struggle that we must wage around the world to ensure that elected officials do not usurp our sovereignty after being sworn into office. And the protests that greeted the announcement is a sign that the people of Ecuador are clear about the fact that the decision to allow the assault on Yasuni ITT is not with the consent of the people.

Of course the people of Ecuador have not forgotten the tragedy of oil extraction as exemplified by the mess that Texaco (Chevron) left there. How would they forget when Chevron has shrugged off the fines that the court in Ecuador slammed on them for their massive environmental misbehaviour? President Correa is aware of the unwillingness of the oil companies to respect the rights of the peoples and the environment and yet he is set to open up the remaining tracts of the pristine environment in his country.

A basic problem of the Yasuni ITT proposal was that it was hinged on donations of cash in exchange of not extracting the crude. We agree it was the best option for our environmental activist friends to push the idea of leaving the oil in the soil. The climate crisis is intensified by the use of fossil fuels, chief of which is crude oil. A critical step towards fighting global warming requires an urgent transition from dependence on fossil fuels. Rather than take that necessary step, political leaders, oil companies and financial speculators keep pushing for more crude oil fields – whether it is in the Arctic, in fragile ecosystems in Africa or in the Amazon. As oil fields diminish more extreme extraction he race for the bottom of barrel is intensifying and telling capital to respect the environment and the people is like asking Shylock not to demand his pound of flesh.

Oil in Yasuni ITT must be left in the soil, not because monies were not donated in exchange for 50% of the value of the crude, it must be left untapped for the reason of safeguarding the environment of the uncontacted peoples of who live there, to tackle global warming and generally to preserve the rich biodiversity in the area.

Life is more valuable than crude oil. No one can buy the planet and all she has to offer. All who value the planet, no matter where we are located, must defend Yasuni ITT. The Ecuadorian constitution recognizes the right of nature. Let us tell President Correa that opening up Yasuni ITT to the claws of the oil predators is a blatant abuse of nature and her rights.

Reaction from Patrick Bond
There are plenty of enemies of the progressive Yasuni initiative.

Everyone has a different political spin on this, but mine is that there should be appropriate “climate debt” payments from excessive greenhouse gas emitters to both

  • those suffering climate loss&damage (“polluters pay” – preferably via an arrangement such as the Basic Income Grant in those geographic areas affected so that the funding doesn’t go to elite politicians, multinational corporations and dubious aid agencies/NGOs as is currently on track in the Green Climate Fund), and
  • Southern countries’ governments and directly-affected peoples (e.g. Niger Delta residents) to “leave the oil under the soil, coal in the hole, tarsand in the land, fracking shale gas under the grass,” etc.

Both those kinds of payments are central to climate justice, in my view, and with a Namibian Basic Income Grant pilot and Yasuni-as-ecodebt-downpayment, it seemed to me that the stage was set for a coming battle on how the promised $100 bn/year for the GCF might be better allocated. The film “The Bill” sets the German challenge nicely: … please have a look to see how a narrative can emerge that moves from guilt to solidarity.

Now meet the Arschloch – Dirk Niebel, the German minister for cooperation – whose fingerprints are clearest on the Yasuni corpse, for the reason, he insists, that “Germany will not contribute to a fund that is based on the philosophy of ‘payment for non-action’.” Responding to intense pressure to assist in Yasuni, he did trickle down some euro (24 million is nothing to sneeze at), but instead of being part of a project to leave the oil under the soil, he’s only interested in market-oriented projects like REDD.

To learn more on the Yasuni ITTproposal and alternatives to oil extraction in places like this, see our recent report on the post-oil Civilisation or go straight to the policy recommendations we made in this briefing.

A reaction from Pablo Solon is here:

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