By Bonnie James,/Deputy News Editor

The $3.6bn Yasuni-ITT Initiative, which expects Qatar’s support to conserve “the biologically richest place on Earth”, is a post-fossil fuel model of development that builds on the sustainability component of the Millennium Development Goals set out by the United Nations.

Gulf Times recently travelled to Ecuador, one of the 17 megadiverse countries that harbour the majority of the Earth’s species, for a close look at the South American nation’s efforts to avoid further damage to its share of the Amazon rainforest by charting a paradigm shift from fossil fuel to renewable
energy sources.

The Yasuni-ITT Initiative aims to keep reserves of 846mn barrels of oil indefinitely underground in the Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) fields located in Yasuni National Park, and avoid the emission of 1.2bn metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Eminent biodiversity expert Prof E O Wilson believes the 1mn hectare Yasuni National Park may harbour the highest species numbers that have ever existed. Yasuni is also home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane communities - belonging to the Waorani ethnicity – living in voluntary isolation to preserve their ancient cultures and

In order to conserve Yasuni’s unique biodiversity, Ecuador will forgo 50% of the revenue it would have received had it exploited the oil in the ITT fields. In exchange, the Andean country is seeking international contributions amounting to the remaining 50%, which has been calculated as $3.6bn, to fund
renewable energy projects.

To ensure transparency, the government of Ecuador has partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and established the Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund in August 2010, with the objective of reaching the target by the year 2024.

Given that one hectare in Yasuni contains more tree species than are native to the whole of North America, the conservation of the rainforest will guarantee climate change mitigation through both non-exploitation of the oil underneath and leaving the ‘giant carbon sink’

It is estimated that 407mn metric tonnes of CO² emissions will be avoided due to non-extraction and burning of oil and 800mn metric tonnes from avoided deforestation, thereby totalling net avoided emissions of 1.2bn metric tonnes.

“Yasuni means sacred land in the Waorani language,” Yasuni-ITT Initiative’s secretary of state Ivonne A-Baki told Gulf Times during a meeting in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city.

“Yasuni is just in the intersection of the equatorial line and the Andes mountains and because of being a little higher in altitude than the rest of the Amazon, climate change never affected Yasuni.

“In fact, during the last ice age, 12,000 years ago, the whole Amazon became a savannah except the Yasuni, and all the animals of the Amazon came to Yasuni, which now makes Yasuni have the highest biodiversity within one hectare than all of the US and Canada together. Yasuni will never be affected if we don’t cut the trees.”

Baki recalled the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Eric Chivian (founder and former director of the Centre for Health and Global Environment) saying that medicines for almost every disease could be developed from the poison found in certain species of frogs and amphibians in Yasuni.

“A team from Yale University discovered in Yasuni a fungus that breaks down plastic and turns it back into carbon, a development that holds tremendous scientific and medical potential,” Baki said while elaborating on the benefits that Yasuni could have for the

UNDP’s programme specialist Gabriel Jaramillo was of the view that if the Yasuni-ITT Initiative is successful, many other megadiverse countries in South America, like Brazil and Columbia, and many others in Asia probably, would like to see it replicated, instead of exploiting oil or mineral resources.

“Considering that researchers find about 10 new species every year from the Yasuni, it will be an opportunity lost if the area is exploited for oil, because we will not know what is actually lost because we do not know in entirety what there is,” he

Jaramillo pointed out that all the climate models run in the last decade show that some areas of the Amazon, especially Yasuni, are the most climate stable areas in the world.

“If they are disrupted, in huge areas, like in Brazil, for monoculture, or intensive logging and that micro climate is changed, we may be losing the only stable area in the world that may be able to support the rest of the humanity, pretty much what happened in the ice age, may happen the other way around,” he warned.

Conservation biologist Prof David Romo, also a co-director of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station run by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito on 650 hectare of pristine lowland rainforest on the edge of Yasuni National Park, observed that climate change experts have predicted the Yasuni part of the Amazon to become more humid, thereby limiting any adverse impact.

“We have almost no dry season in Yasuni, whereas other parts of the Amazon have three or four months of dry spells. Ecuador’s Amazon Basin is in a comparatively good condition,” he said.

Daniel V Ortega Pacheco, an adviser on environment and sustainable development to foreign minister, claimed Ecuador is ‘doing its best to conserve biodiversity despite pressures from the population for measures to reduce poverty and meet other developmental demands.’

“We need the co-responsibility from the international community by way of contributions to the Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund as the initiative is for the entire humanity. Ecuador is fully committed to reduce deforestation. We have already achieved 5 to 10% reduction. The goal is 30%.”

Prof Carlos Larrea Maldonado, a researcher in social and global area studies at Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, Ecuador, and a key player in the technical design of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, said a substantial fraction of the global reserves of fossil fuel need to be kept unexploited if global warming is to be limited to 2 degree Celsius.

More information on the Yasuni-ITT Initiative could be had from,, and



1) Prof Carlos Larrea Maldonado

2) Daniel V Ortega Pacheco

3) Gabriel Jaramillo

4) Ivonne A-Baki

5) Prof David Romo near a giant ficus tree at Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador.