Ecuador asks for $3.6bn not to drill for oil in rainforest
Ecuador is launching a unique initiative to protect a jungle reserve that contains both a huge variety of plants and animals and 20 per cent of its crude oil reserves.
In exchange for not drilling for the fossil fuel in a 200,000-hectare area of Yasuni national park, the government is asking rich nations, foundations and individuals to give it $3.6 billion (2.3bn).
The sum is about half of what President Rafael Correa said it would get from drilling in this part of Yasuni, where the Andes mountains intersect with the Amazon rainforest.
It is a new approach to conservation and officials recognise that they might not find enough support for the initiative. But if it works, Ecuador claims 407 million tonnes of carbon dioxide would be kept from entering the atmosphere.
Ecuadorean officials are flying around the world this month - including trips to Japan, Germany and the United Nations - meeting with prospective contributors to drum up support.
Yasuni covers 982,000 hectares and is home to a huge array of birds, monkeys and other wildlife including jaguars, giant armadillo and pink dolphin.
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The initiative applies to three oil fields called Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini, collectively known as the ITT section.
Other parts of the park are already being drilled for petroleum, but many residents support the government's plan.
"We don't want more oil because of the contamination," said 19-year-old Fani Imene, who is from the local Waorani tribe and lives just outside the ITT section. Many in her 2,500-member tribe are afraid to drink from rivers if oil wells have been drilled nearby.
Ecuador will issue certificates to contributors promising their money back, without interest, should it ever decide to exploit the oil. Officials say the first wave of contributions is likely to come from nations such as Germany and Spain. Chile is expected to contribute $100,000 (64,000) this week, making it the first official donor.
Other prospective contributors are expected to pay close attention to the certificates' fine print given that Ecuador has a long history of political instability and previously defaulted on its international bonds in 1999 and 2008.
Ecuador, a member of OPEC, has given itself until the end of 2011 to raise $100m (64m) in seed money that the government says is needed to make the initiative viable."If we don't have $100m in the fund by the end of next year we go to Plan B, which would be to refund whatever money we have collected and proceed with exploiting the oil in the ITT section," said Tarsicio Granizo, a senior official at Ecuador's heritage ministry.
The fund is to be administered by the United Nations Development Programme, which is encouraging oil-rich countries to refrain from drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas. Ecuador wants to collect the target amount by 2024.
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