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Ecuador drills near an Amazon nature reserve calls it the start of a new era

Ecuador drills for oil near an Amazon nature reserve and the government blamed the international community for this failure

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Members of the media inspect measures taken at the ITT, or block 43, oil block by Petroamazonas to minimize impact on the environment during oil production in Tiputini, Ecuador, Sept. 7, 2016. Source: VOA
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  • Ecuador began drilling for oil Wednesday near an Amazon nature reserve known as Yasuni
  • Around half of Ecuador’s income comes from oil, according to the World Bank.
  • Correa’s government blamed the international community for the failure of a plan once seen as a possible model for other developing countries seeking to resist the lure of oil money

Ecuador began drilling for oil Wednesday near an Amazon nature reserve known as Yasuni, a site that President Rafael Correa had previously sought to protect from development and pollution under a pioneering conservation plan.

Correa in 2007 asked wealthy countries to donate $3.6 billion to offset revenue lost by not drilling in the Yasuni National Park. But the initiative was scrapped in 2013 after it brought in less than 4 percent of the amount requested.

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Correa’s government blamed the international community for the failure of a plan once seen as a possible model for other developing countries seeking to resist the lure of oil money. Wednesday’s drilling by the state oil company Petroamazonas began in the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) block at Tiputini, which is just outside Yasuni. Ishpingo and Tambococha are within the Yasuni reserve itself.

Workers walk past machinery at Miranda Port in Tiputini, Ecuador, Sept. 7, 2016.
Workers walk past machinery at Miranda Port in Tiputini, Ecuador, Sept. 7, 2016. Source: VOA

Correra has said previously that drilling would affect less than 1 percent of the reserve.

“It’s the start of a new era for Ecuadorean oil,” said Vice President Jorge Glas after a tour of the site Wednesday.

“In this new era, first comes care for the environment and second responsibility for the communities and the economy, for the Ecuadorean people,” he told reporters, adding that the cost of production was less than $12 per barrel.

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Ecuador is OPEC’s smallest member and has suffered heavily from the fall in oil prices. Around half its income comes from oil, according to the World Bank.

It is also one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, boasting Amazon rainforest, Andean mountains and the Galapagos Islands.

The end of Ecuador’s conservation initiative for the eastern Yasuni, a vast swath of rainforest on the equator, drew outrage from environmentalists when it was first announced.

“This is the worst imaginable place to be drilling for oil. The world can simply not afford to lose a place like Yasuni,” Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program director at Amazon Watch, said in a statement.

About 1.67 billion barrels of oil lie under Yasuni’s soil.

With output from the Tiputini field, Ecuador’s oil production will rise to some 570,000 barrels per day (bpd) from a current level of about 550,000 bpd, government officials say. (VOA)

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Green Groups In Brazil Prepare A Climate Change Plan

A Brazilian version would draw on linkages between about 150 civil society groups who worked closely over the last year to oppose Bolsonaro's campaign

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Brazil, rainforests
This photo released by the Brazilian Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources Institute (Ibama) shows an illegally deforested area on Pirititi indigenous lands as Ibama agents inspect Roraima state in Brazil's Amazon basin. VOA

With its wooden walls and posters on protecting forests and fauna, Brazil’s pavilion at the U.N. climate talks in Poland offers no hint of the angst at home and abroad over mixed messages on global warming from its president-elect.

But campaign promises made by Jair Bolsonaro that could weaken protection for the Amazon rainforest are a hot topic of conversation among visitors, said Caio Henrique Scarmocin, one of three hosts on the stand.

At the conference, whose outcome will be key to implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, scientists and environmental activists said they were laying the groundwork should calls for Bolsonaro to protect Brazil’s forests fail.

Campaign statements from Bolsonaro, who takes power in January, suggested indigenous lands could be opened up to economic exploitation, including agribusiness and mining, and environmental fines eased.

Brazil President, rainforest
Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro arrives for a meeting in Brasilia. VOA

The ability of Ibama, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, to fine those who break environmental laws is one of the government’s best defenses against the destruction of forests, stoking fears of a deforestation spike under the new government.

Bolsonaro, who campaigned on a far-right platform, also pushed the Brazilian government to withdraw its offer to host next year’s U.N. climate conference.

“He has a hostile approach over environmental issues,” said Paulo Barreto, a researcher with Imazon, a Brazilian institute monitoring deforestation in the Amazon.

Brazil is home to about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, considered by many as nature’s best weapon against global warming, because trees absorb and store carbon from the air.

Alfredo Sirkis, executive secretary of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, said he thought dialogue with the incoming government was still possible.

Rainforest, Brazil
In this May 4, 2018 photo released by Ibama, the Brazilian Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources Institute, members of a specialized inspection group of Ibama walk with their weapons up through an area affected by illegal mining, after landing in helicopters in Munduruku indigenous lands in Para state in Brazil’s Amazon basin. VOA

But if environmental roll-backs proceed, there was a “contingency plan,” he told journalists.

A coalition would assemble regional governments committed to respecting Brazil’s emissions reduction goals set under the Paris pact, said Sirkis.

Governors in as many as seven Brazilian states, including Amazonas, Pernambuco, the Federal District, Espirito Santo, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, had already expressed interest in joining, he said.

“This is for starters,” said the former congressman.

A spokesman for the presidency of Brazil at the climate talks declined to comment.

U.S. shows the way

The plan has similarities with “We Are Still In,” a U.S. group of more than 3,500 mayors, governors and business leaders who have promised they will not retreat from the Paris deal.

Brazil, cuban doctors, rainforest
Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro talks to the media, in Brasilia, Brazil. VOA

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump gave notice the United States would leave the accord — although it cannot formally withdraw until 2020 — arguing it was bad for the economy.

Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil, said his group had been in touch with the U.S. campaign through WWF-US, which is part of the “We Are Still In” secretariat.

The American coalition has its own pavilion at the U.N. climate talks.

“We are learning from ‘We Are Still In’ the importance of sub-national (governments) and companies enhancing commitments for the implementation of the Paris Agreement,” Voivodic said.

But WWF-Brazil is not yet trying to emulate the model because it wants to prioritize dialogue already under way with the transition government, he added.

“It could be an option, but we are not going in the direction of starting planning this,” said Voivodic.

Deforestation, Brazil
Brazil Surpasses 2020 Target to Cut Deforestation Emissions. Flickr

Brazil’s future environment minister told Reuters on Monday his “inclination” was not to leave the Paris Agreement, after Bolsonaro said on the campaign trail he might quit the deal, under which countries set their own targets to cut emissions.

Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil, said he also looked to the United States as a vague blueprint to build a similar “resistance movement.”

A Brazilian version would draw on linkages between about 150 civil society groups who worked closely over the last year to oppose Bolsonaro’s campaign, he said.

Also Read: Many Countries Refused To Endorse Landmark Study as Climate Conference Enters Second Week

Also mirroring tactics used in the United States, his group does not exclude filing lawsuits to push back against potential weakening of environmental and climate regulations in Brazil.

“It’s on the table,” he said, adding that it was still a last-resort option. (VOA)