Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Ecuador has struck a historic agreement to leave one-fifth of its oil reserves untapped forever. The move protects a marvelously rich area of the Amazon rainforest and will net Ecuador $3.6 billion in compensation—half the oil’s estimated value at today’s market rates—from a United Nations trust fund supported by developed countries.
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The region is considered to be one of the most biodiverse on the planet and was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989. It has more tree species in a single hectare than the U.S. and Canada combined and is teeming with a diverse array of insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals, a significant number of which are endangered. The 675-square-mile Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini sector is the ancestral territory of the Huaorani people, as well as the Tagaeri and Taromenane—two of the last remaining “uncontacted” tribes in the world.
Before U.N. conspiracy theorists get all worked up about this, they should keep in mind that the fund, run by the United Nations Development Program, is a voluntary endeavor in which “donor countries, philanthropists and individuals around the world are being invited to pay the money in return for a non-exploitation guarantee,” reports Britain’s Guardian. So far, Germany has indicated it will pay $800 million over 13 years, while Spain, France, and Switzerland are considering chipping in. Writes the Guardian:
The idea of rich countries paying poor countries not to exploit their forests in return for financial compensation is being promoted [in global climate change discussions] … But the idea of paying poor countries not to develop valuable oil reserves is believed to be the most radical and most forward-looking yet.
Of course, the recent unrest in Ecuador, including an incident that President Rafael Correa described as a coup attempt, doesn’t bode well for these sorts of deals—if Correa were unseated by hostile forces, would his successor honor the no-drilling pact? Join a debate at United Nations University about the pros and cons of this new approach to conservation.