The meeting took place at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on 10 October, organized by the WCC on request from the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) to talk about the Yasuní project (http://mdtf.undp.org/yasuni), which implies Ecuador to definitively forego the extraction of over 840 million barrels of oil from the Yasuní area. This represents 20 percent of Ecuador’s known oil reserves.
Yasuní National Park is an area of 9,820 square kilometres between the Napo and Curaray rivers in Amazonian Ecuador. The park is about 250 kilometres from Quito and was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989. It is home to two indigenous cultures, and one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world.
Ecuador launched its Yasuní project last year to protect rich natural assets in the area, seeking some 3.6 billion US dollars in donations by 2024 from developed nations and foundations in exchange for leaving an estimated 846 million barrels of oil in the ground.
“This initiative is based upon a paradigmatic shift towards a sustainable, post-fossil fuel model of development”, explained Patiño.
He requested the churches' support to disseminate information and rally as part of a worldwide civil society campaign to materialize this initiative.
“Due to the council’s work for ecological justice, issues of indigenous people, especially in relation to eco-debts, along with CLAI in the 1990s, we seek mutual collaboration to find support for the Yasuní initiative,” said Patiño.
“Ecuador is seeking support from government, foundations, private sector and the public at large to sustain the initiative,” said Ivonne Baki, government representative and head of the Yasuní initiative negotiating team.
The Yasuní initiative, which Baki termed as “historical and revolutionary”, protects the diversity, supports the livelihood and culture of the indigenous communities and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.
These comments made during the meeting are significant, since the exploitation of these reserves would represent an emission of 407 millions of tons of CO2, one of the main culprits of climate change, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of countries like Brazil and France.
Preserving integrity of the inhabited world
The initiative was qualified as courageous by Georges Lemopoulos, deputy general secretary of the WCC.
“You are moving against the current in a world that is too eager to exploit natural resources with no consideration to the need to preserve creation. You are pioneers and courageous in this endeavour,” said Lemopoulos.
Dr Rogate Mshana, director of the WCC programme on Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation also signified the need for the ITT project to be pro indigenous people. “The Yasuní ITT initiative of the Ecuadorian government – to refrain from extracting 846 million barrels of oil reserves with a view to protecting Ecuador's rich biodiversity and supporting the voluntary isolation of indigenous peoples living in the Yasuní Park – deserves to be commended,” he said.
The WCC together with partners such as CLAI and Jubilee South has advocated for the conduct of debt audits and the cancellation of illegitimate debts being claimed from the developing world at immeasurable cost to its peoples.
Franklin Canelos, coordinator of CLAI's programme on Faith, Economy and Society stressed the importance of church voices supporting Ecuador.
He said, “ITT is an important ecological proposal to avoid the exploitation of oil in the Amazon region in order to reduce environmental contamination and climate change, along with reciprocal contributions from the industrialized countries. Therefore, our support is significant for Ecuadorian government and society.”
The WCC programme for indigenous people supports the struggle of indigenous people in Ecuador, who are urging the government to keep the promise to protect biodiversity and the earth.
WCC Central Committee statement on eco-justice and ecological debt 2009
WCC programmes on eco-justice
WCC programme for Indigenous Peoples
Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI)
Photo: From left to right, Melanie Macario, Ivonne A-Baki, Georges Lemopoulos, Ricardo Patiño, Rogate Mshana, Daniel Ortega (WCC)
Source: World Council of Churches, WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/wcc-supports-ecuadors.html