Friday, 16 August 2013

Ecuador Latest Victim of Gobal Climate Change


Ecuador has fallen to the forces driving global climate change.  

In the news today we learn that President Rafael Correa has announced he will dissolve Ecuador's highly imaginative Yasuni-ITT trust fund.  His action opens up this most sensitive biological area to the ravages of oil drilling.  A Reuters report notes,
"...a single hectare (2.47 acres) of the Yasuni national park contains more tree species than in all of North America."
And a report from Earth First News makes the point for biological diversity even more forcefully,
"...eastern Ecuador (the location of Yasuni) and northeastern Peru have the highest number of species in the hemisphere based on data on birds, mammals, amphibians and plants...this estimate, if proven true, is the highest per unit area in the world for any taxa, plant or animal."
The announcement by Correa is a devastating blow to those of us concerned for the environment, as you will readily understand from a quick google search on the subject.  For example, a blog posted on the National Geographic site on December of last year, is a must read.  The commentary by the author, Kelly Swing, sadly anticipates today's announcement by Correa,
"Historical fact #1: If there's oil around, someone, sooner or later, will come for it.  Historical fact #2: No matter where in the world, places that underwent oil extraction before widespread environmental awareness and the implementation of modern technologies have suffered indelible consequences."
Swing contrasts the existing, pristine conditions in Yasuni with an area just to the north which has been ravaged by fossil-fuel extractors;
"An area once equally diverse...has been converted horizon-to-horizon into a cut-over land of oil wells, dusty gravel roads, scattered bamboo huts, open pastures full of introduced elephant grass and practically devoid of its original copious dose of biota."
Before we delve any deeper into the environmental riches of Yasuni (you really must read about this incredible area), and the impending devastation that will surely be visited upon it by the fossil-fuel industry, lets return to Correa and the cancellation of the trust fund that, until now, protected it.

The Yasuni-ITT trust fund was launched in 2007 by the Correa administration, and was administered by the United Nations Development Programme.  In creating the fund, the government of Ecuador voluntarily chose to forego the extraction of 846 million barrels of oil, equating to more than US$ 7.2 billion in income; this action also eliminated the release of 407 million metric tons of CO2 to the environment and a further 800 million tons of CO2 that would otherwise have occurred due to deforestation.   

As the UN website notes, the fund was established
"...for the receipt of contributions from Ecuador's historical decision to permanently forego the extraction of the Yasuni ITT oil fields.  The contributions will finance renewable energy and sustainable development initiatives such as the avoidance of deforestation and conservation of ecosystems.  Through this unique initiative, Ecuador is addressing the challenges of climate change and sustainable development and gradually change its energy matrix from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources."  
And so with Yasuni-ITT, dear reader, you see concrete action taken in response to the desperate need to keep the carbon in the ground as a critical step in combatting the worst outcomes of global climate change (as I noted in my last post).  You will recall from that post that the window to the consensus maximum of a 2 degree rise in global temperature is fast closing, and that we recently reached a milestone of 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, a level not seen in nearly 3 million years.  

The government of Ecuador made the historic commitment to keep the carbon in the ground - an unprecedented step by one of the smallest and poorest oil producers in the world.  But the Correa government has now backed away from this bold and visionary initiative because - wait for it - the world community has failed to support it.

In creating the fund, Correa sought $3.6 billion in funding - half the value of the Yasuni reserves - in exchange for permanently foregoing all extraction in the area.  As he said in his announcement,
"The world has failed us.  It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change."    
To date, the plan is said to have raised only $13 million in actual donations and another $116 million in pledges, mainly from European institutions and private donors. 

Let's put the Yasuni funding into context - that is, the $3.6 billion Correa's government was seeking to keep the carbon in the ground (remember, this is 50% of the actual value of the resources).   The United States provides roughly that very amount to the state of Israel each and every year, and it donates a further $1.5 billion to Egypt each year and every year to ensure it plays nice with Israel; and also, as is well known, the US distributes each year economic and military aid around the world that totals approximately $50 billion.  And to put the modest Yasuni funding more fully into context, the cost of the US actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has recently been estimated at $4 trillion (!), not including future interest on the cost of borrowing.  

This is certainly not to suggest that America should be on the hook for the Ecuadoran initiative, but the point to be made is that there are available funds to be found in most every country you might wish to consider - Canada, too, has a role to play, although Mr. Harper has frozen our foreign aid budget at roughly $5 billion, with further reductions pending.

The Ecuadoran initiative was bold, imaginative and visionary. President Correa showed himself to be a world leader on the issue of climate change.  The collapse of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund is a low point in a struggle that is itself already dangerously close to collapse.

In the grand scheme of things, the failure of Yasuni-ITT is immaterial, really.  The Ecuadoran fields represent a very small percentage of the total known reserves upon which the $27 trillion valuation for fossil-fuels is based (see my previous post).  And it represents an equally small fraction of the 2,795 gigatons of CO2 that the fossil-fuel industry will release into our atmosphere with such profound affect.

The real importance of Yasuni-ITT is that even such a grand and noble gesture can be thwarted by the unrelenting machinations of industry, and by the crippling indifference of elected government.  

By David.

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Your musical accompaniment for the day: La cathedrale engloutie, Claude Debussey.  Enjoy and reflect.

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