Project secures rainforest future
Tuesday 5 June 2012
In a world first, oil buried deep in the Amazonian rainforest in Ecuador is set to stay in the ground in exchange for help with the country’s economic development, in a project involving researchers from The Australian National University.
The Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies (ANCLAS) at ANU has been awarded a $292,000 grant from AusAID under its Public Sector Linkages Program to study the feasibility of the groundbreaking idea.
The plan, proposed by the Ecuador government, aims to leave about 850 million barrels of oil – approximately 20 per cent of Ecuador’s reserves – in the ground to avoid the potentially devastating effects that exploitation of the oil would have on the local environment and indigenous groups.
Dr John Minns, Director of ANCLAS, said the Yasuní-ITT area of Amazonian rainforest is one of the most bio-diverse areas of the planet, with just a single hectare boasting a similar number of tree species as the whole of North America.
“The area is extremely fragile and Ecuador has already suffered some serious environmental problems caused by the extraction of oil. Further extraction of oil would only cause more environmental damage, which can happen through oil spills. Additionally, roads and townships would have to be built,” he said.
“Many of the world’s most sensitive environments are found in developing countries, which rely on the extraction of natural resources for revenue. It can be an extraordinarily difficult choice for those countries to forgo that revenue in order to preserve the environment.
“Moreover, a number of indigenous groups live in the area, but two groups in particular have decided to remain out of contact completely. These people are largely hunter gatherer societies and live a lifestyle which hasn’t changed much since European settlement. They want to keep it that way and exploitation of the oil would almost certainly disrupt that.
“This initiative is at the heart of a series of development concerns related to resource exploitation and management, environmental and climate change questions and issues of indigeneity and economic change. It raises the responsibility of the developed countries of the world for the environment outside their borders and especially in less wealthy countries,” he said.
The project is coordinated by ANCLAS and includes academics from the ANU College of Law, the Fenner School of the Environment and Society, part of the ANU College of Medicine Biology and Environment, and the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, part of the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.
Over three years, Dr Minns and his colleagues will develop a cost benefit analysis of leaving the oil in the ground versus taking it out, assess the potential damage to biodiversity in the Amazonian rainforest, and evaluate the potential dangers to culture and health. The project will link ANU with Ecuadorian specialists in each of these fields at Ecuador’s Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales (National Institute of Higher Studies).
For interviews – Dr John Minns –
02 6125 5424 / 0407 483 952. For media assistance –
Sarina Talip – 02 6125 7988 / 0416 249 241.