Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has abandoned a unique and ambitious plan to persuade rich countries to pay his country not to drill for oil in a pristine Amazon rainforest preserve.
Environmentalists had hailed the initiative when Correa first proposed it in 2007, saying he was setting a precedent in the fight against global warming by reducing the high cost to poor countries of preserving the environment.
“The world has failed us,” Correa said in a nationally televised speech. He blamed “the great hypocrisy” of nations who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases.
“It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.”
Correa had sought US$3.6bn in contributions to maintain a moratorium on drilling in the remote Yasuni national park, which was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations in 1989 and is home to two indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation.
But on Thursday evening he said Ecuador had raised just $13m in actual donations and $116 million in pledges and he had an obligation to his people, particularly the poor, to move ahead with drilling.
Schemes outwardly quite like this, that ask people to put their money where their mouths are, might yet turn out to be a great way to find the balance between development and preservation that actually pleases most people as revealed by what they are willing to pay for. But given that Mr Correa has already shown, as Tim Worstall points out, that he considers payment of his country’s debts to be optional, I think the required foundation of trust might be lacking for this one. Sadly there were quite a few private individuals who contributed to this scheme even though the rich world’s governments prudently refrained – some of these individuals lament their wasted money in the comments to this second Guardian story. Someone else replies that it is a sin to leave a sucker in charge of his money, but there are worse things to be than a sucker. They are not the environmentalists who should arouse our scorn. Reserve that for the first commenter, who says to general approval, “If we want to save the planet, we are going to have to do this by force.”