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Ecuador to be paid to leave oil in the ground

Ecuador will establish a trust fund for receiving payments to leave oil reserves unexploited in Yasuni National Park, one of the world’s most biodiverse rainforest reserves, reports the UN Development Programme, the agency that will administer the fund.

The Yasuni Trust Fund, announced by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Fander Falconi, and Minister of Natural and Cultural Heritage Marie Ferdinand Espinosa in Copenhagen on December 16, 2009, will prevent the emissions of 407 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by leaving an estimated 850 million barrels of crude oil in the ground. The fund aims to offset lost oil revenues by receiving donations from industrialized countries and using the proceeds for renewable energy projects and low carbon development.

Protecting Yasuni will not only avoid greenhouse gas emissions and move Ecuador towards a low carbon development path, the initiative will safeguard important habitat for plant and animal species—the Ecuadorean Oriente region has some of the highest levels of biodiversity ever recorded — as well as allow rainforest tribes to continue living in traditional ways should they so choose.

The Yasuni Trust Fund is a sharp break from the previous development philosophy in the region: unrestrained exploitation of oil. Decades of oil drilling and exploration in the Ecuadorian Amazon has polluted rivers, decimated indigenous groups, and contributed to deforestation rates that are among the highest in Latin America. Environmental damages from oil extraction is the subject of an ongoing multi-billion dollar lawsuit against Chevron Corp. Texaco, a company acquired by Chevron in 2001, has been linked to widespread contamination and is accused of failing to adequately fund and support clean-up efforts. A decision on the suit is expected next year. Chevron has vowed to not to pay damages no matter the outcome.

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(10/27/2009) Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park is full of wealth: it is one of the richest places on earth in terms of biodiversity; it is home to the indigenous Waorani people, as well as several uncontacted tribes; and the park’s forest and soil provides a massive carbon sink. However, Yasuni National Park also sits on wealth of a different kind: one billion barrels of oil remain locked under the pristine rainforest.

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(09/13/2009) The documentary Crude opened this weekend in New York, while the film shows the direct impact of the oil industry on indigenous groups a new study proves that the presence of oil companies can have subtler, but still major impacts, on indigenous groups and the ecosystems in which they live. In Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park—comprising 982,000 hectares of what the researchers call “one of the most species diverse forests in the world”—the presence of an oil company has disrupted the lives of the Waorani and the Kichwa peoples, and the rich abundance of wildlife living within the forest.

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(09/03/2009) The promotional efforts ahead of the upcoming release of the film Crude have helped raise awareness of the plight of thousands of Ecuadorians who have suffered from environmental damages wrought by oil companies. But while Crude focuses on the relatively recent history of oil development in the Ecuadorean Amazon (specifically the fallout from Texaco’s operations during 1968-1992), conflict between oil companies and indigenous forest dwellers dates back to the 1940s.

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(07/22/2009) Chevron Corp. expects to lose a multibillion dollar environmental lawsuit in Ecuador but has no intention of paying damages and will continue to fight for “decades”, reports the Wall Street Journal.