"Poor" start to jungle protection plan: Ecuador

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 23, 2011 7:08 PM
"Poor" start to jungle protection plan: Ecuador

By Dave Graham

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rich nations are failing to do enough to compensate Ecuador for not tapping billions of dollars worth of oil from the biologically diverse Yasuni jungle reserve, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said on Friday.

Ecuador launched its Yasuni project last year to protect the area's rich flora and fauna, seeking some $3.6 billion in donations by 2024 from developed nations and foundations for leaving an estimated 846 million barrels of oil in the ground.

The OPEC member had set itself the target of collecting $100 million by the end of 2011 to test the water for the plan, which ecologists have hailed as a bold step against global warming.

But so far Ecuador has received pledges worth just over $52 million, and it will review the viability of the project in December, Correa told Reuters.

In a trip to New York that included stops at the United Nations and Columbia University, Correa urged Western countries to help the South American nation take a stand on conserving areas of natural beauty.

"The international response to our call has been poor," he said. "We're renouncing an immense sum of money. For us the most financially lucrative option is to extract the gasoline."

In a country where more than one in three people live below the poverty line, the government could not afford to sacrifice valuable resources, Correa said.

"If the poor don't receive direct benefits from conservation, conservation won't be sustainable," he added.

Correa's leftist government estimates it could reap some $14 billion from oil concentrated in a 200,000-hectare (495,000-acre) section of the park that holds around one fifth of the country's reserves.

By leaving the heavy oil under the national park, Ecuador says some 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will not be released into the atmosphere and a jungle area with more tree species than North America will be better protected.

But the financial crisis has dampened enthusiasm for the project, the "most concrete proposal in human history to fight global warming," Correa told students and academics in Manhattan.

He said one aim of the project was to secure "compensation from those countries that bear historical responsibility for climate change."

"The idea is that the country is compensated for not undertaking something it has a right to," he said.

Yasuni as a whole covers an area of 982,000 hectares (2.4 million acres) and is home to a huge array of birds, monkeys and other wildlife such as jaguars, giant armadillos and pink-colored dolphins.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)