Yasuni global - Let's keep it diverse and cool

Non-extraction - a long term solution

Beyond the short term perspective

Numerous studies and articles in newspapers, television etc. have demonstrated that it is not enough to simply consider short term monetary gain when addressing national development. It is also true that there are many environmental policies which only tackle single dimensions of a problem. The planetary boundary model illustrates the fact that we have to look for holistic solutions1. Failing to preserve biodiversity and reduce carbon emissions or overconsumption of potable water can lead to irregular and unpredictable change causing impacts to the global planetary systems. Parallel to this, we should also consider issues concerning distributional justice to guarantee a safe human space, not only for a minority population, but both for the majority and for future generations.

National decisions about fossil fuels and resource extraction are generally based on short term monetary solutions for development. The underlying belief that resource extraction and revenue management, if only carried out effectively, will lead directly to local development is widely spread and incorporated as an assumption in many development models.

The distribution of burden and risk amongst the population, long term environmental damage, loss of biodiversity, social inequality and the extensive experience from economies based on extractivism are often played down and have little weight during decision-making. If one starts to address future gains for humanity, dimensions of social equality and impacts to the people on the ground, the picture quickly changes. Going beyond a simplistic economic perspective, and considering multiple criteria2, the non-extraction of oil in Yasuní ITT emerges as far more beneficial for Ecuador’s development whilst at the same time preventing the emissions associated with 850 million barrels of oil and hence representing a real and active step in global climate change mitigation3.

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From this perspective there is great value in thinking of ways to replicate the Yasuní model in other areas, adjusting it to the local context. If we accept that at least one third or even two-thirds of currently known fossil fuel reserves have to be left underground due to the importance of biodiversity for humanity4, it is essential to avoid extraction (and the associated loss of biodiversity) where high levels of biodiversity coexist with fossil fuel reserves5.

Larrea, as well as Temper and Martinez-Alier mention 15 countries where high levels of biodiversity converge with substantial fossil fuel reserves: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, and Venezuela5,6. Moreover, these meet the following conditions:

  • They are considered as developing countries or - for some - as emerging economies
  • They are so-called megadiverse countries
  • They are all countries with significant fossil fuel reserves located in areas of high biological and cultural sensitivity5.

Using these criteria, Larrea and Warnassee these countries as locations where the concept of the Yasuní ITT initiative should be replicated7. Similar initiatives would not only combat climate change and maintain biodiversity in the respective developing country, but also tackle poverty and inequality5.

Funding mechanisms

What still has to be established, and will require much scientific, political and civil society support, is the backing of industrial countries for these initiatives - in other words, of how Yasuní-like models can be successfully funded.

Into what kinds of models could the responsibility of industrial countries for climate change (carbon debt) be integrated whilst avoiding mere commodification of nature in which the logic of capital overrides humanitarian and planetary needs. This issue needs further analysis and development but some important reflections on this can already be found in Temper et al8.


Temper and Martinez-Alier sees the initiative in an even broader context. By talking about ‘Yasunisation’ they also argue that the logic of Yasuní should be applied to extreme energy sources such as tar sands and shale gas6. As Uyi Ojo states, the term Yasunise has gained international recognition. It describes

“Social demands for the protection of territories in various countries that are of special interest due to their natural and cultural diversity or riches, but are threatened by megaprojects or other activities with high environmental impact”8,9.

Temper et al highlight that the idea of Yasunisation is already applied in the context of Nigeria where concepts parallel to those in Latin America have been developed8. In Nigeria, civil society strongly supported the non-extraction of oil due to a history of devastating impacts on the environment and livelihoods. Rather than looking for financial support from outside the country, the failure of oil extraction to support development of the country led to the demand to leave fossil fuels under the ground.

Within the same time period, on two different continents, similar ideas of post-extractivism were born based on experiences of impacts from the extractive sector. Another study from Ejolt shows that the call for non-extractivism due to the fear of destruction of natural and cultural diversity or riches is omnipresent9. Even in industrialised countries, where one would expect effective governance and application of technology to minimise impacts, many demands for non-extraction of known reserves of fossil fuels have been raised. In Norway, around the Lofoten Islands for example, people perceive major risks in extraction and have demanded non-extraction of fossil fuels9. The list of similar examples is long and broad. 

To think of a socially just way towards a post-fossil fuel society we need large numbers of people joining in to think creatively about ways to get there. Here you can find some more examples of initiatives trying to head in this direction. This list is incomplete and needs more cases to be added, so if you have any more examples and ideas please share them with us!



[1]  Rockström, J. et al. (2009), "Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity", Ecology and Science, Vol. 14, No. 2, Art. 3214.

[2]  Vallejo M.C.; Larrea, C.; Burbano, R. and Falconi, F. (2011), "La Iniciativa Yasuní-ITT desde una perspectiva multicriterial", Programa Conjunto para la Conservación y Manejo Sostenible del Patrimonio Natural y Cultural de la Reserva de Biosfera Yasuní, Quito.

[3]  Falconí Benítez, F. (2010), "El ITT: prueba de vida The ITT: Life at Stake", Iconos Revista de Ciencias Sociales, Vol. 38, pp. 17–20.

[4]  IEA (2012), “World Energy Outlook 2012".

[5]  Larrea, C. (2013), “Ecuadors Yasuni-ITT Initiative A Critical Assessment”.

[6]  Temper, L. and Martinez-Alier, J. (2013), "Conclusion: Paths to a post-oil civilisation: From Ogonisation to Yasunization", in Temper, L. et al (eds), “Towards a Post-Oil Civilization. Yasunization and other initiatives to leave fossil fuels under the soil”, Ejolt report, No. 6, pp. 170-184.

[7]  Larrea, C. and Warnars, L. (2009), “Ecuador's Yasuni-ITT Initiative: Avoiding emissions by keeping petroleum underground”, Energy for Sustainable Development, Vol. 13, pp. 219–223. Abstract available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0973082609000581

[8]  Temper, L. et al (2013), “Towards a Post-Oil Civilization. Yaunization and other initiatives to leave fossil fuels under the soil”, EJOLT Report, No. 06.

[9]  Ejolt (2013), "Unburnable Fuel: High time for a new European policy approach to tackle climate change", EJOLT Briefing, No 005.