The main goal of the Yasuni ITT Initiative is to stop the exploitation of the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, 722 square miles of Amazonian rainforest. The initiative met its first goal to raise $100 million by December 30, 2011. In 2007, Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, agreed to stop extracting oil from Yasuni if half of the $7.6 billion in revenue the oil would have generated could be raised. There are 846 million barrels of oil beneath Yasuni.
By August 2010, the UN Development Program helped set up a trust fund with the deadline of December 30, 2011 to raise $100 million or the deal to stop extracting oil from Yasuni would be off the table. The big goal is to raise $3.6 billion by 2024. Everyone from famous actors to Al Gore gave money. Governments pledged support, including Germany, which donated $48 million in technical assistance.
The initiative faces criticism. The blog site, Yasuni Forever says it “hardly looks like a resounding triumph as it is a mixture of written off debts, a donation from the President of Ecuador himself and various others.” Part of the funds came from Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy, who deducted $51 million from the money that Ecuador owes Italy. A Reuters blog post by Felix Salmon says of Berlusconi’s deduction, “as though Ecuador was ever going to pay that money in any event.”
Salmon says that the initiative “has been riddled with problems from the outset,” and one of the main problems is the source of the funds. Correa gave $40 million from the damages he won in a libel lawsuit, a lawsuit that Amnesty International condemned as having the potential to curtail freedom of speech. Other sources of funds came from governments, including $100,000 from Turkey, and $500,000 from Australia. “There’s no way that those sort of sums can ever hope to come close to replacing potential ITT oil revenues,” Salmon says.
For all its criticism of the initiative, Yasuni Forever does view it in a positive light as a “signal of intent.” As the blog post puts it, “it’s a good note to start 2012 on.” However, raising the $100 million is only “step one” and “much more money needs to be raised to save Yasuni in the future.”
There are people who praise the initiative, including Hugo Mogollon, executive director of the NGO, Finding Species. “The Yasuni-ITT Initiative is pioneering,” Mogollon says. “It is a serious effort to keep a megadiverse forest intact, coming straight from the office of the President of Ecuador. Governments of the region and around the world should really want to support this.”
Time will tell if the initiative will continue to raise funds. As a Mongabay.com article points out, “innovate programs with immediate results such as Yasuni-ITT may become increasingly attractive” considering that governments are “acting too slowly to effectively counter climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Photo credit: Flickr user, ggallice