How to make money from oil … without extracting it

June 22, 2012

Daniela Hirschfeld
Freelance journalist from Uruguay, SciDev.Net


Like a celebrity — arriving at what until then was just another low-profile Rio+20 side event— Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa entered the packed room and tens of photographers shot pictures and the public applauded.

The Yasuni – ITT: Changing Paradigms for a Sustainable Future, hosted by Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador. Flickr/ UN Women Gallery

Seeing people with Panama hats, some with indigenous ornamental feathers and others chatting very excitedly in Spanish, made it easy to tell that the topic of this session had something to do with Latin America.

The session ‘Yasuní initiative: changing paradigms for a sustainable future’ had one of the most high-level panels, and people responded.

Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president and UN Women executive director; Helen Clark, former New Zeland prime minister and current head of the UN Deveolpment Program (UNPD); and Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, scientist and Alternative Nobel Prize recipient, were some of the international leaders that accompanied Correa, who was wearing his traditional formal clothes: a suit and a white indigenous embroidered shirt.

After Ivonne Baki, State secretary of Yasuní initiative, made an eloquent introduction, Correa began by reminding how, during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, he announced that Ecuador had decided to forego the exploitation of oil in the Yasuní-ITT area, located in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest.

This decision was “a substantial sacrifice for a small developing country whose economy still depends on petroleum, choosing to put social and environmental values first, while exploring other ways to benefit the country economically”.

By leaving the estimated 846 million barrels of oil “indefinitely” underground, Correa said his people were contributing to combating global warming by avoiding the emission of approximately 407 million tons of CO2, that in present oil prices worth US$14 billion.

The 982.000 ha Yasuní National Park is one of the five biodiversity hotspots on the planet, with around 100.000 species per hectare: 2.274 types of trees and bushes, 169 of mammals, 141 of amphibans and 121 reptiles. It is also home to two indigenous cultures —the Tagaeri and the Taromenane— living in voluntary isolation.

But Ecuador can’t afford losing so much money, even in order to preserve nature. So in exchange, Ecuador decided to seek financial contribution of the international community as a gesture of co-responsibility in the fight for climate change.

The Yasuní-ITT Trust Fund, administrated by the UNDP, was established in 2010 to raise US$3.6 billion in contributions, which will be used to finance renewable energy projects.

“This is the most concrete initiative in this conference to save the planet. It means moving from rethoric to facts”, said Correa.
Ute Coczy, member of the German Parliament and part of the German official delegation supporting the initiative, agreed with Correa: “[The Yasuní initiative] is still a very unique one, but it gives me more hope than all the other papers and proposals that are being discussed at Rio+20”.

For her, now the question is: “Is the world really ready for this initiative?”.

With an engaging speech, Shiva also applauded Ecuador, saying that “it is first country to have the courage and the imagination to protect the Earth and Human Rights”.

And she concluded: “Good ideas are coming from small countries. Smallness is the promise of the future, smallness can multiply”.
At the end of the session, the Yasuní initiative signed an agreement with the Regional Government of Wallonia, Belgium, that donated US$1.5 million to the Trust.

And after this, Correa and the panelists left the room like celebrities followed by the flashes from the cameras.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


A protest against Shell

March 26, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


As angry protests against multinational oil companies go this one was quite refined.

As soon as Martin Haigh, brains behind the Shell World Energy Model, rose to tell the 2,800-strong Planet Under Pressure audience of his company’s vision of the future he was interrupted by three protesters who stepped onto the podium and unfurled a banner reading “No More Greenwash — Shell”.

The protesters (whom I understand to have been London Rising Tide) then obediently followed a security guard out of the auditorium, though they shouted a few inaudible protests as they went.

After a moment’s reflection, the audience began a little clapping which slowly grew into widespread applause. Not quite a standing ovation for the protesters, but an indication that the general inclination of a hall-full of people whose lives are spent documenting, or fighting, planetary destruction is against Shell.

Perhaps not a good launchpad, however, for the efforts of scientists to engage with industry, unless you feel that frankness should be the basis of any fertile relationship.

Haigh went on to be fairly frank. He said that changing things “is not going to happen without the participation of big companies. If you stifle the opportunity for big companies to contribute to the debate you are tying our hands behind our backs.”

“It’s very difficult to transform things quickly,” he said. “Recognition of these time frames, rather than trying to turn things around immediately, is crucial.”

Very true, none of us wants our energy supplies pulled out at the plug. But others might argue that it’s decades since the alarm was raised.

This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


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