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Leaving 'Oil in the Soil': Ecuadoran President Confirms Deal to Leave Oil Under Yasuni Park

QUITO, Ecuador - President Raphael Correa now has approved an agreement to leave Ecuador's largest oil reserves, amounting to some 900 million barrels, underground in Yasuni National Park in exchange for more than $3 billion.

Rainbow over Yasuni National Park. Under an unprecedented agreement, known as the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, the government of Ecuador will refrain from exploiting the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil field within the Amazon rainforest park, which scientists have determined to be the most biodiverse area in all of South America. (Photo by Miguel Martin) Under the unprecedented agreement, known as the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, the government of Ecuador will refrain from exploiting the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil field within the Amazon rainforest park, which scientists have determined to be the most biodiverse area in all of South America.

The agreement between Ecuador and the United Nations Development Programme creating a trust fund to receive donations to the Yasuni-ITT Initiative was nearly signed in December at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, but at the last minute, President Correa instructed his negotiators to hold back until several sticking points were resolved.

Now, those issues are settled and the agreement will be signed within the next week to 10 days, according to Ivonne Baki, who now heads the president's negotiations committee for the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.

"It has been reviewed by the president and was approved by the president," she said of the detailed Terms of Reference for the UN Development Programme trust fund.

Baki, a former Ecuadoran ambassador to the United States, told ENS in an interview that the trust fund agreement presented in Copenhagen needed changes to gain presidential approval. "In order for us to get the money from countries, we needed to have an international fund. But that fund was set up not as the president was told it would be, not according to discussions before," she said. "He had to change some of those things."

The agreement now refers not to "donors," a term President Correa found unsatisfactory, but to "contributors."

"Ecuador is a contributor, other countries are also contributors," Baki said.

In addition, President Correa insisted that Ecuador have a majority on the trust fund board of directors. Under the revised agreement, there will be three board members from Ecuador, two board members from contributing countries, and one position representing civil society that was not there in the previous version.

Finally, under the previous version, all decisions of the board had to be by unanimous consensus, which allowed any one person to veto a measure, bringing the whole process to a halt.

Under the revised agreement, decisions will be reached by consensus if possible, but if that is not possible, by majority, Baki said.

Getting the agreement right is very important, said Baki, because it could be an example to be followed by other countries in the same position as Ecuador.

"A biodiverse developing country that has oil underneath that we don't want to touch," she said, "Imagine, we could contribute this to the world. This is a different kind of sustainable development."

"Really we need Yasuni to be known all over the world," said Baki, and she has assurances from some of the biggest names in the entertainment world that they will support and help to publicize the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.

Actors Leonardo Dicaprio, Edward Norton, Glenn Close, Daryl Hannah and Chevy Chase told Baki and Ecuadoran Vice President Lenin Moreno during a four-day conservation conference at sea that they would back the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.

Baki said, "They are lending their names and the moral support that we need to make Yasuni known in the world."

Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Laureate Al Gore will come to Ecuador in November to give a conservation conference, she said.

All of this attention is focused on an area of the Amazon rainforest that Baki calls "amazing."

"Once you have been there, you feel you have seen God," she said.

"We were flying by helicopter over the greatest variety of trees unimaginable," Baki told ENS, "when all of a sudden there was a red tree, all of a sudden a yellow tree, and all different kinds of birds."

"We went down a river by canoe to find most amazing variety of plants, trees, animals, monkeys, small monkeys, nature living together in harmony. And on top of that the communities - there are two groups of indigenous people who voluntarily are uncontacted, but there are other communities that have done an amazing job, incredible things with the trees, with artisanal products,

Baki stayed at the Napo Wildlife Lodge by Anangu Lake in Yasuni National Park, within the ancestral territory of the Anangu Quichua Community.

The community manages the lodge, which Baki described as having "the most beautiful food, hotel, nature. They only ask 'please keep this place.' You feel you are in another world," she said.

Near the lodge are two parrot and macaw clay licks, 565 bird species, 11 species of monkeys, giant otters and other large mammals such as Brazilian tapirs, white-lipped peccaries, and all species of cayman.

For years, conservationists around the world and indigenous communities who live in the park have been urging protection of Yasuni. "What will happen when our children grow up? Where will they live when they are older? Our rivers are tranquil and in the forests we find the food, medicines and other necessities that we need. What will happen when the oil companies finish destroying what we have?" Waorani community members wrote to the President of Ecuador in July 2005.

To "keep this place" free of oil development, Ecuador will issue Yasuni Guarantee Certificates to contributors to the Initiative, as a guarantee that an estimated 900 million barrels of oil, worth US$6 billion will remain in the ground for an indefinite time period.

The value of the certificates will be a multiple of the metric tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions.

"This is a negotiable instrument that does not earn interest and does not have an expiration or maturity date, since the guarantee is in perpetuity and will be redeemed only in the event that the Ecuadorian government decides to start the oil exploration and production within the ITT fields," the government of Ecuador says on its website.

The donations to the Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund will come from two main sources - voluntary contributions and transactions in the carbon market.

The voluntary contributions can come from governments of countries, international or multilateral organizations, civil society organizations, private sector companies, and citizens worldwide.

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