Saving the Yasuní Rain Forest

Tiputini in Yasuni
Sara y Tzunki (Cecilia e Francesco), via Flickr

Under the Yasuní rainforest, there is a huge amount of oil. But the Ecuadorian government is trying a new approach to protect Yasuní. Ryan Geertsma and Liz Waid look at these efforts.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand - no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Yasuní National Park lies deep in the rainforest of Ecuador. It is one of the earth's greatest natural treasures. Yasuní is only a small part of the Amazon rainforest. But its importance is huge. Yasuni is famous for its amazing biodiversity. It contains more different kinds of plants and animals than any other place on the planet. And many of these plants and animals are nowhere else on earth.

Voice 2 

However, another kind of treasure is threatening Yasuní’s biodiversity. Oil. This limited natural resource is worth a lot of money.  People usually measure oil in barrels. A barrel contains over 100 liters of oil. And in Yasuní, there are over 846 million barrels of oil under the ground. But removing oil from Yasuní would cause great damage.  It would harm the rain forest and its important biodiversity.

Voice 1 

The government of Ecuador has proposed an unusual idea to protect Yasuní’s biodiversity. The idea is called the Yasuní ITT Initiative. But will it be enough to save Yasuní National Park? Today's Spotlight program is on the Yasuní ITT Initiative.

Voice 2 

Ecuador's economy depends greatly on the money it earns from exporting oil. And much of the country’s oil resources lie under Yasuní National Park. There is a small part of the park called the ITT Block. This area contains about 20% of all Ecuador's oil. Many people argue that Ecuador should remove oil from the ITT block.  Ecuador would make a lot of money exporting this oil.  And they say that capturing this oil would only damage a small part of Yasuní. For these reasons, there is a lot of pressure to use the oil under the ITT Block.

Voice 1 

But there has also been a lot of pressure to save the forests of Yasuní. Much of the biodiversity in Yasuní is still unknown to scientists.  They have not had time to study it.  Scientists believe the forest has many helpful resources. And they hope to use these resources to make medicines and other things that are helpful to human life. People also argue that the oil should not be removed because of global warming. Scientists say that the removal and use of oil releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. And this release of carbon dioxide and other gases is slowly warming the earth.

Voice 2 

Rafael Correa is the president of Ecuador.  He talked to National Geographic magazine about this difficult situation.  He said,

Voice 3 

"Ecuador is a poor country. We still have children without an education. We need healthcare, good homes. We lack many things. What would be best for the country would be to use the oil resources.  But we also understand our responsibility to fight against global warming."

Voice 1 

So, in 2007, President Correa started the Yasuni ITT Initiative. This unusual initiative is a fund raising program. Ecuador asked the international community to give money.  In return, Ecuador promised not to use the oil under the ITT Block. For the plan to work, the international community would have to give Ecuador 3.6 billion US dollars [$3,600,000,000] over 13 years.  This amount is about half of the value of the oil in the ITT block. This plan would provide Ecuador with much needed money. And it would also keep the treasures of Yasuní National Park safe.

Voice 2 

The initiative had a difficult start. Many people praised the idea. They said it was fair, intelligent, new, and full of promise. Other people thought Ecuador was trying to force other countries to give aid money. And the countries did not know what Ecuador would do with the money. They also could not be sure that Ecuador would keep its promise.

Voice 1 

Ecuador's government had to persuade the international community that the plan was good for them. Ecuador argued that the beauty and biodiversity of Yasuní National Park is a global treasure. They also argued that exploring and using the oil would be very costly for the global environment. Lastly, they explained that Ecuador is not just asking for money. Ecuador is also giving money.  They are sacrificing 3.6 billion US dollars worth of oil money.

Voice 2 

In 2010, Ecuador announced that it was going to work with the United Nations on the initiative. The UN would manage a special trust fund for Ecuador. This means that countries will give money to the fund.  Then, the UN will make sure that Ecuador uses the money in a responsible way. The UN will also make sure the government of Ecuador keeps their promise. If Ecuador uses the oil from the ITT block, the UN will make Ecuador give back all the promised money.

Voice 1 

Ivonne A-Baki is Ecuador’s head of the Yasuní ITT Initiative. In a speech at the Yasuní National Park she explained why the initiative is so important to Ecuador. She said,

Voice 4

"We have to protect the environment. This is written in our constitution. We want to build Ecuador's economy on clean energy, not on fuels like oil."

Voice 2

Having the UN involved has helped the Yasuní ITT Initiative. The goal for 2013 was to raise 291 million US dollars by the end of the year. By the middle of 2013, A-Baki reported that they had raised 330 million US dollars. That is enough to keep the initiative going, for now.

Voice 1 

The success of the Yasuní ITT Initiative depends on what happens next. The initiative has raised 330 million dollars.  But that is a lot less than the total goal of 3.6 billion dollars. President Correa hopes the initiative will be a success. He wants to protect the biodiversity of Yasuní. And he wants to protect the environment from further global warming. But if it fails, he is clear. Ecuador may have to use the ITT oil. In a 2013 speech, he said,

Voice 3 

“We want to keep large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But if the international community does not help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people.”

Voice 2 

What do you think? Will the international community help Ecuador save Yasuní? Do you think they should?  You can e-mail us at Or, you can leave a comment on our website.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Jen Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the Internet at This program is called, “Saving the Yasuní Rain Forest.”

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.



Should a government protect natural spaces?


Avatar Spotlight
said on October 28, 2013

Just an update to this date. Sadly the International community has failed and the president Correa has decided to exploid the oil from the ITT block. I am from Ecuador and I support his decision because our needs are great yet. Greetings!

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 29, 2013

This serious problem of protecting the environment or using the natural resources situated under the ITT Block is very complicated and not easy to solve. However, the great needs of Ecuador’s citizens have to be satisfied too. A citizen of Ecuador (as Iopsant in a previous comment) only can judge this situation rightly.
Thanks for an article!

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 29, 2013

I think : Protecting the environment is the work of all citizens on the earth. I mean: Internatinal funds only support a litle, Ecuador citizens also have the responsibility. Why do Ecuador government do any thing else to improve their economic situation more? (except exploiting their natural resources)

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 30, 2013

The economy of a country depend of its resources, but it´s important to point that we have to find other way to live that is not oil.
The oil anytime will be finished and what will happen?
Wait that we don´t have oil to think what to do.
I´m ecuadorian I don´t agree that this rainforest is being exploited and I ´m not activist either
I´m just simply a citizen that give my opinion.

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 03, 2013

We are thinking That’s big shame even if you really need to money.

Forests are big parts of life and they have to stay live.

Greetings from Turkey


JoaoVBR's avatar
said on March 19, 2015

I agree with the help which of international community is giving to Ecuador. However, Ecuador must find others energy sources instead of oil, like solar energy and the energy given by winds. Renewable energy is what Ecuador have to worry about!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 23, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Friday 23, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Jen Hawkins, Ryan Geertsma, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to bring us readers and learners of English more on great article. Thanks!

Ye, he should. The Government should protect natural spaces in his country because these natural spaces belong to him and his people. Also, these natural spaces brings them a healthy environment to them. Yasuní are the lungs of Ecuador. So, this rainforest brings only benefits to Ecuador’s people, atmosphere and animals that live there in the Yasuní rainforest.
Therefore, Ecuador’s Government should not do blackmails to another country to receive a lot of money from it to protect his own wealth. Finally, I think that no country should not accept these blackmails.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos