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Cash for Conserving?

kelli korducki

Untapped oilfield or conservational goldmine?

Untapped oilfield or conservational goldmine?

Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park is home to one of the planet’s most richly diverse ecosystems. Beneath it lies enough oil to generate some billions of dollars in revenue.

What’s a poor Andean nation to do? Hold off drilling in exchange for cash, it turns out.

In 2007, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa proposed a novel solution: the Yasuni oil fields would remain untouched in exchange for economic compensation from wealthier countries around the world. Enter: the carbon market.

Carbon credits are typically granted in response to emissions-reducing initiatives. Ecuador’s unorthodox approach to the program, which would earn the country carbon credits for not bringing forth future emissions in the first place, is a first.

Despite being South America’s fifth-largest oil producer, most Ecuadorians live in poverty. Three decades of oil exportation have resulted in mass deforestation, pollution, and extensive watershed degradation. The proposal to reap economic benefits from conservation, rather than exploitation of resources, is a novel one, yet sure to draw controversy from opponents who see the plan as an ill fit to the requirements of the carbon credit program or, at worst, cash for what might ultimately prove a short-term agreement.

It is also unclear how exactly the money would be spent, or how the certificates would be sold on carbon markets.

Regardless of the potential downfalls, environmentalists view the initiative as an ecologically benevolent sacrifice on the part of the Ecuadorian government.

Let’s hope they’re right.

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