An approximately 100 year old Galapagos giant tortoise, Charles-Darwin research station on the island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Environment Extraordinary biodiversity

Ecuador is one of the countries with the greatest biodiversity in the world. Compared with other countries, an exceptionally large part of Ecuador is given over to nature reserves. Some twenty per cent of its territory is officially protected. However, the authorities are often not yet able to enforce environmental laws or effectively monitor the protected areas.

Environment under threat from oil production

The most serious threat to these diverse nature areas comes from the oil industry. Nature is enshrined in Ecuador's constitution as an independent entity with its own legal rights, and there are comprehensive national programmes – progressive by regional standards – such as the Socio Bosque programme, which provides for incentive payments to the local population in return for preserving forested areas. Yet some 60,000 hectares of virgin forests are lost to logging every year.

Yasuní-ITT Initiative

Ecuador became the focus of international attention when, in 2007, then President Correa launched the Yasuní-ITT Initiative. This initiative was named after the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve and National Park and the Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini oil fields discovered there. Ecuador offered the international community a deal whereby it would forgo plans to exploit the oil fields if the international community agreed to compensate Ecuador for lost earnings by paying 50 per cent of the expected oil revenues (3.6 billion US dollars) into a trust fund administered by the United Nations.

However, the international community did not enter into this bargain, and a civil society environmental alliance failed to push through a referendum on how the oil reserves should be used. In 2014, a licence for oil production in Yasuní National Park was granted. Drilling began in September 2016. In a referendum in February 2018, a majority of two thirds voted in favour of significant restrictions on oil extraction in the Yasuní National Park.