Join the Pachamama Alliance and indigenous leaders coming from Ecuador, as well as Amazon Watch, at the Bioneers conference!
By Bill Twist, Co-Founder, Pachamama Alliance
Just as global warming is heating up the planet, events are heating up in the Amazonian rainforest in southwestern Ecuador and right across the border in northern Peru. The Ecuadorean government has announced plans for the 11th Round of oil development in the area. The indigenous nationalities have made it known they’re strongly opposed to any oil exploration or development in the territories. Given the critical role the Amazonian rainforest plays in governing the global climate, stopping further oil development is imperative, as well as protecting the sovereignty of the native peoples.
The government of Ecuador has recently started moving at a much faster pace with its "consultation" process with the indigenous peoples on the heels of losing a precedent-setting international lawsuit in the Inter-American court which remarkably upheld the objections by the indigenous Kichwa community of Sarayaku to attempts that began 15 years ago by the government to expand oil development into indigenous territory. The lack of proper prior informed consultation was the main basis for the decision.
Representatives of Ecuador's energy ministries have been making appearances at a number of indigenous communities that will be affected by the 11th Round, announcing they’re beginning the process of consultation. It’s clear the government knows there are real teeth in Ecuadorian and international legal requirements for proper prior informed consultation whenever infrastructure or development projects could adversely affect indigenous territories.
Recently a judicial ruling halted the Belo-Monte mega-dam project in Brazil because a proper process of consultation with the affected indigenous communities had not been carried out prior to commencement of the project. Stopping a project of such large scale after it had begun was a hugely significant decision. Unfortunately, because the decision had such major financial ramifications, an appeal was quickly mounted and taken to Brazil’s Supreme Court, where intense political pressure overturned the decision.
But the message had been sent. Indigenous Peoples' right to prior informed consultation on projects in their territories has to be respected. Consultation can't be just a token. It has to be conducted with culturally appropriate methods, and has to be designed and carried out with a clear aim of achieving some kind of consensus.
In its haste to start the process of consultation, Ecuador's energy ministry is cutting a lot of corners. The ministry wants to be able to represent to potential bidders for the 11th Round in late October that a proper process of consultation was completed, and although consent was not obtained, at least the requirements for consultation have been fulfilled. The point they’re trying to make: Don't worry about future legal actions. However, there are already obvious violations of the intent of the consultation process, and bidders may not be completely assured that the proper groundwork has been laid.
Another momentous event that just happened in northern Peru is going to cause energy companies to think carefully about getting involved in Ecuador's 11th Round. Talisman Energy, a Canadian oil company, just abandoned its years-long efforts to expand its petroleum operations into the territory of the Achuar in northern Peru, just across the border from the 11th Round. Talisman had worked for 5 or 6 years, with only limited success, to convince the Achuar to accept oil development in their lands. Talisman was also facing significant pressure and negative publicity in its own backyard as the NGO Amazon Watch had organized several contingents of indigenous representatives to protest at Talisman headquarters in Canada and at board meetings. In the end, the rewards to Talisman from pushing forward with oil development in sensitive rainforest lands, opposed by local indigenous people and international NGOs, just didn’t add up.
In Ecuador, the government and potential bidders for the 11th Round must be making similar assessments. The highly organized Achuar, Kichwa, Shuar and other indigenous groups in Ecuador are going to be impossible to win over. The government’s attempts to fast-track the consultation process increases the likelihood of legal challenges. Potential legal challenges and grassroots resistance may dampen outside interest in the 11thRound. And ultimately, development of the 11th Round may be impossible without severely damaging Ecuador's international reputation as an environmentally sensitive government with a commitment to human rights and to the cultural diversity of the country.
Perhaps a better plan for Ecuador is to attempt to revive its Yasuni-ITT proposal by adding to it the lands of the 11th Round. The Yasuni-ITT is an initiative wherein Ecuador proposed to permanently leave known oil reserves in the ground in the ecologically pristine rainforest area of its Yasuni National Park in exchange for international financial support that would reimburse Ecuador for a portion of the oil revenues foregone. This proposal stirred international interest when first introduced four years ago, but failed to sustain support when potential donors learned of the extent of Ecuador’s plans to expand petroleum development into other equally precious rainforest areas (e.g. the 11th Round). An expanded Yasuni plan that includes the oil reserves of the 11th Round would have a lot more appeal to international supporters.
A sober analysis of the true risks and rewards for Ecuador associated with attempting to force oil development into the south-central Amazon may show that a restructured “Yasuni-Plus” initiative that includes the lands of the 11th Round makes the best long-term sense for Ecuador.
Please join the Pachamama Alliance and indigenous leaders coming from Ecuador, as well as Amazon Watch, at the Bioneers conference to explore immediate practical ways we can all help stop the oil exploration and reinvent economic models that will sustain the rainforest, the native peoples and the world.