Only 31 delegates were present at what could prove to be one of the more significant presentations of the Durban climate conference. That was the number in attendance when Ecuador convened a meeting on a project it is running to save an area of its rainforest, the Yasuní-ITT initiative. While it may seem relatively unimportant, it is in fact a trailblazing project in ecosystem preservation.
In response to the discovery of 846m barrels of oil under the Yasuní basin, one of the most ecologically diverse areas on the planet, the Ecuadorean government has challenged the world: “if you don’t want us to tap the oil, pay us,” they have said. It’s a bold idea from a small country. They’re looking for $3.6bn to compensate them over the coming 12 to 13 years for forgoing roughly $7.2bn of oil revenue by not developing the forest. Recent donations have kept the project alive; it has already reached its first target, to raise $100m by January 2012.
Clearly this sum is a fairly insignificant fraction of the overall amount needed and the fund has in fact struggled. However, the significance of Yasuní-ITT’s existence is just as much that it keeps the idea of it alive as anything else. Yasuní represents an important new model for protecting ecologically important areas, and it will now continue to do so into the future.