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Ecuador Votes to Halt Oil Drilling in Yasuní National Park

Ecuador has achieved a significant milestone in environmental conservation, with its citizens voting in a historic referendum to cease the development of new oil wells in the Yasuní National Park, an Amazon rainforest gem known for its remarkable biodiversity. This landmark decision, which took place alongside the first round of presidential elections, reflects a resounding commitment to prioritize environmental preservation, even in the face of economic challenges.

Securing Biodiversity and Indigenous Territories

With more than 90% of the ballots counted, the results revealed an overwhelming 58% in favor of preserving the Yasuní National Park, while 41% voted against it. This decision signifies more than just the protection of around 726 million barrels of oil beneath the park’s surface; it secures the ancestral territories of the Tagaeri and Taromenane Indigenous communities, who have chosen to live in voluntary isolation.

Photo: Global Conservation

Celebrating a Pioneering Move in Environmental Conservation

At a time when the global climate crisis escalates, and the Amazon rainforest inches perilously close to an irreversible tipping point, Ecuador’s move is seen as pioneering. It places the country among the first nations to limit resource extraction through a democratic vote, underlining a commitment to environmental stewardship.

Indigenous leaders and environmental activists have celebrated this momentous decision, with Nemonte Nenquimo, an Indigenous Waorani leader and recipient of the Goldman Prize for the environment, expressing her jubilation: “Finally, we are going to kick oil companies out of our territory! This is a major victory for all Indigenous peoples, for the animals, the plants, the spirits of the forest, and our climate!”

However, it is crucial to note that the fight for environmental conservation is far from over. Activists like Pedro Bermeo from Yasunidos emphasize the need for continued collaboration to ensure that the government respects the will of the Ecuadorian people.

The economic implications of this decision are significant. Economists had previously cautioned about potential fiscal challenges, leading to a recent downgrade in Ecuador’s credit rating. As a result, the government now faces the task of ceasing operations, dismantling infrastructure, and undertaking remediation and reforestation efforts within one year.

photo: Borgen Magazine - "the danger zone"

Yasuní National Park has a complex history in the battle between oil interests and rainforest preservation. In 2007, President Rafael Correa proposed an initiative that offered the world the opportunity to keep 850 million barrels of oil underground in exchange for international compensation. However, this endeavor ultimately faltered, and oil drilling was approved in the area in 2013.

This pristine rainforest holds UNESCO’s designation as a world biosphere reserve since 1989. Covering over one million hectares, it houses an astounding 610 bird species, 139 amphibian species, and 121 reptile species. At least three species found here are endemic, making Yasuní National Park a priceless repository of biodiversity.

In conclusion, Ecuador’s referendum to protect the Yasuní National Park signifies a beacon of hope in the global struggle to strike a balance between economic development and environmental preservation. It underscores the power of democratic decision-making in prioritizing the well-being of our planet, its unique ecosystems, and Indigenous communities, even amid formidable challenges.