“The world has failed us,” said Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. “I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and with this, ended the initiative.” What might have been a model for a system that helps poor countries avoid the need to ruin their environment in order to make ends meet has failed, because the rich countries would not support it.
In 2007, oil drillers found a reservoir of an estimated 846 million barrels of heavy crude in Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador’s part of the Amazon. But the park is home to two indigenous tribes that have so far succeeded in living in voluntary isolation — and it is listed by the Unesco as a world biosphere reserve.
Ecuador, which cannot access finance on international markets, desperately needs money, and the oil meant money. Nevertheless, Ecuadorians were horrified by the pollution, deforestation, and cultural destruction that the drilling would cause: a large majority of them opposed drilling in the park. And then the energy minister, Alberto Acosta, had an idea. What if Ecuador just left the oil in the ground? In return, Acosta hoped that the rest of the world would come up with $3.6 billion over the next decade, to be spent on non-polluting energy generation and on social programmes to help Ecuador’s many poor.
The pay-off for the foreign contributors to this fund would come mainly from the fact that the oil under Yasuni would never be burnt, thereby preventing more than 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Only a drop in the bucket, perhaps, but if the model worked it could be applied widely elsewhere, offering the poor countries an alternative to selling everything they can dig up or cut down. The idea won the support of the United Nations Development Programme, which agreed to administer the Yasuni-ITT trust fund. It was set up in 2009, and the money started to come in. But it didn’t flood in; it just trickled.
Chile, Colombia, Turkey and Georgia donated token amounts. Brazil and Indonesia promised donations eventually but didn’t actually put any money up. Among the developed countries, Spain, Belgium and France also promised donations, Italy wrote off $51 million of Ecuadorian debt, and Germany offered $50 million worth of technical assistance to the park. And that was it. Not a penny from the United States of America, Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands or Scandinavia. Individuals put in what they could afford. But four years later, the pledges only amounted to $116 million. Actual cash deposits were only $13 million. So, this month, Correa pulled the plug.
We continue on our merry way to a global meltdown — and this is the recent news from London — fracking is now more important than wind power! When the Conservatives came into office three years ago, they pledged to be the “greenest government ever”, but they have fallen in love with shale gas, CO2 emissions and all. The British government has announced a new tax regime for fracking. Not only that, there will be “no standard minimum separation distance” between a fracking rig and people’s houses. Planners considering drilling applications “should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy.” In practice, it means that they can drill wherever they want, including in your front garden. Whereas local people will now have a veto on the construction of any wind turbines in their neighbourhood. David Cameron’s office explained that “it is very important that local voters are taken into account when it comes to wind farms … if people don’t want wind farms in their local areas they will be able to stop them.”
It’s okay to ruin the planet, but god forbid that you should ruin the view.