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Ecuador Would Protect Oil-Rich Rainforest For Cash

Date: 23-Sep-09
Country: UNITED NATIONS
Author: Terry Wade

Ecuador Would Protect Oil-Rich Rainforest For Cash Photo: Roberto Jayme
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Fander Falconi talks during a news conference with his Brazilian counterpart Celso Amorim at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia August 24, 2009.
Photo: Roberto Jayme

UNITED NATIONS - Ecuador, a member of OPEC, is willing to preserve a tropical forest with reserves of 900 million barrels of oil if rich countries pay it about $360 million a year to keep the petroleum in the ground.

Under the proposal, the international community would pay Ecuador an annual fee equal to about half of the total cash it would generate from selling the crude. Leaving the oil under the Yasani rainforest would prevent the release of up to 410 million tons of carbon.

"We have to attack the cause of climate change, which is the elevated use of energy by industrialized countries," Ecuador's Foreign Minister Fander Falconi told Reuters.

"Climate change has a very clear origin ... high energy use by rich countries," he said.

Some developing countries at a U.N. climate change summit on Tuesday said rich countries should pay for damage they have caused and compensate poor countries for taking steps to prevent carbon emissions.

But it may be hard to reach agreement as leaders prepare to sign a new pact to tackle climate change in December in Copenhagen.

Rich countries want guarantees that cash they pay to poor ones would be properly used, while poor countries are worried they might put their sovereignty at risk if they agree to setting aside resources for conservation in exchange for cash.

Falconi said agreeing to forgo oil drilling in a block that overlaps the Yasuni National Park would also protect two indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation.

Despite its conservation offer, he said Ecuador doesn't plan to limit future oil exploration or extraction in other parts of the country.

"Petroleum is extremely important for Ecuador's economy; it sustains our foreign trade," Falconi said.

He said however that an international body like the United Nations should levy a global carbon tax to help limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Ecuador produces about 450,000 barrels per day, and wants to boost production in the future.

STRAINS WITH COLOMBIA, U.S. BASES

In addition to participating in climate talks, Falconi said he would "cautiously" meet with Colombian officials to map out a series of talks that could eventually lead to their re-establishing diplomatic ties.

Ecuador cut off relations last year after Colombia's military raided a FARC rebel camp inside Ecuadorean territory. Other countries condemned the attack as well.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said the raid was a crucial part of his crackdown on FARC rebels whose long-running insurgency is financed by cocaine trafficking.

Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa canceled access to his country's Manta air base that a previous leader had given to the United States.

Now Washington plans to move its anti-drug flights and surveillance operations to Colombian military and air bases.

Ecuador, like many countries in South America, has voiced concern the United States may increase its military presence in the region -- a prospect that has angered Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez in particular.

"The Colombian bases that will be used by the American military will have technological capabilities that go way beyond the objectives of fighting drug trafficking," said Ecuador's Security Minister Miguel Carvajal.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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