Ecuador announced it is opening an Amazonian nature preserve to oil drilling, abandoning a conservation plan of using international funds to leave the oil in the soil.
"The world has failed us,” President Rafael Correa said in a televised speech on Thursday. "It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.”
The conservation plan, known as the ITT initiative, "was widely seen as one of the boldest and most innovative approaches to conservation in the world," the Guardian's Jonathan Watts writes, and would have prevented "more than 400m tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere, if half the $7.2bn value of the reserve could be raised by the international community by 2023."
Since the pay-us-not-to drill initiative was introduced in 2007, only $13.3 million has been raised. Because of this, Correa said he had to make "one of the hardest decisions of my government."
Correa has attempted to placate those furious with the plans for fossil fuel exploitation of the area saying that the oil operations will affect just 1% of the Yasuní.
Matt Finer, a scientist at the U.S.-based Center for International Environmental Law, told the Associated Press, "The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was the lone exception to the relentless expansion of hydrocarbon projects deeper into the most remote tracts of the western Amazon. Now there is really no viable alternative to stop the wave of drilling slated for the most biodiverse region of the world."
About half of Ecuador's oil goes to the United States.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the presidential palace following Correa's decision.
One of the protesters was biologist Adrian Soria, who told Reuters, "Yasuní is important for humanity and as Ecuadorians, we can make the difference ... Yasuní must be preserved and that is more important than the oil," he said.
Critics of the decision took to Twitter with the hashtag #notoquenelyasuni (Don't touch the Yasuní), saying that while Correa has abandoned the Yasuní, the people of Ecuador have not.
The decision to abandon the conservation scheme "is disappointing to all of us but it is necessary,” Correa said. “Not to do it would be to the detriment of our people. History will judge us."
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To see some of the beauty and biodiversity of this area, watch the Guardian video below: