Ecuador is eyeing the international Green Climate Fund as a way to help pay for its plan to trade oil for forests, a top government representative said.
Heading the campaign, former Ecuadorean ambassador to the United States Ivonne A-Baki said on a swing through Washington last week that she was frustrated with the U.S. government's indifference to the cause of Yasuní National Park.
She hopes to raise the profile of the lush rainforest in the run-up to this summer's U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, also called Rio+20. The national park is located where the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Basin and the equator meet and is regarded as one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
Yasuní also happens to be the site of Ecuador's largest untapped oil reserves -- nearly 1 billion barrels. President Rafael Correa has vowed not to drill there, under the condition that the international community chip in for his country's lost revenue. About $3.6 billion, to be precise, about half the estimated value of the reserves.
"It means sacred land, 'protected by God,' according to the communities that live there," A-Baki said, showing off a green cloth bracelet reading Juntos por el Yasuní, or "Together for the Yasuní," jangling alongside Turkish beads and indigenous Amazonian charm bracelets.
"You stay there just one day, and you are rejuvenated like being in a spa for the month. It's so pure, so clean. It feels like the place where life began," she said. Ecuador, A-Baki said, "still needs oil. We are a developing country, and we are not the one that is polluting the world. But we still believe this is a place that needs to be preserved."
Correa's plan has been dubbed everything from ecological blackmail to the world's most unique strategy for protecting the Amazon. But as the debate unfolds, one thing is clear: The money is not flowing fast. Celebrities from Bo Derek to Leonardo DiCaprio have pledged support, but so far, Ecuador has raised though a U.N. fund $116.9 million, the bulk of which comes from Italy in the form of a $50 million debt forgiveness.
Celebrities vs. skeptics
"There's a lot of folks who are skeptical at this point, because they haven't come up with the money and it's taken a long time," said Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program coordinator for Amazon Watch. "At this point, we would have hoped there would be more donations."
Spain has donated $1.4 million, with about another $6.5 million on the way, A-Baki said. The Andean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank each have put $1 million toward the initiative, and a handful of countries, including Peru, Colombia, Germany, Georgia, Turkey and Australia, have donated between $100,000 and $500,000. Several private individuals, companies and regional government bodies in France and Belgium also are pitching in at growing rates.
Conspicuously absent: the United States.
"I don't even want to meet with the State Department anymore, because we aren't getting anything out of them," A-Baki said, waving her arm dismissively. Speaking in her former office at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Georgetown, she said Washington's disinterest in climate change is to blame. "They don't believe in climate change. ... They don't see it as a priority," she said.
Meeting with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Thursday, A-Baki described the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as "very positive" about the Yasuní initiative and regretful of the absence of U.S. funding.