Planet Money
10:55 am
Wed August 21, 2013

Ecuador Shoots The Trees

Earlier this year, we reported:

Ecuador's Yasuni National Park is one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. But there's a complication: The park sits on top of the equivalent of millions of barrels of oil.

This creates a dilemma.

Ecuador prides itself on being pro-environment. Its constitution gives nature special rights. But Ecuador is a relatively poor country that could desperately use the money from the oil.

In 2007, Ecuador's president proposed a way around the dilemma: Ecuador would promise to leave the forest untouched if countries in the developed world would promise to give Ecuador half the value of the oil — $3.6 billion. ...

"The joke we always used to always talk about was, you know, 'Give me the money or I'll shoot the trees,' " says Billy Pizer, a former deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy under President Obama.

But Ecuador only managed to raise a small fraction of the money it was asking for. And in a big speech last week, the country's president said he was shooting the trees — he said he'd signed a decree to end the program and allow drilling in the park. He called it "the most difficult decision of my entire government."

But the plan was popular in Ecuador, and groups in the country are trying to save it, the Miami Herald reports:

A coalition of environmental and indigenous groups is vowing to keep the government and oil companies out of the area, which is rich in animal species and isolated tribes. ...

The groups are planning a series of marches, protests and legislative actions to rescue the project. ...

[The president] said that drilling the ITT oil block would affect less than 1 percent of Yasuní National Park, and that the oil could be worth $18.3 billion.

"The real dilemma is this: Do we protect 100 percent of the Yasuní and have no resources to meet the urgent needs of our people, or do we save 99 percent of it and have 18 billion to defeat poverty?" he said.
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