Ecuadorians gathered last week to vote on a new referendum to halt the development of all new oil wells in the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon. As one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, voters have secured a landmark bill that will safeguard the unique biosphere by a margin of nearly 20%.
This vote will prevent approximately 726 million barrels of underground oil in the Yasuní National Park from being exploited. Home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane people, Yasuní National Park has two of the world’s last “uncontacted” Indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation.
Ecuador has become one of the first countries in the world to legally limit its resource extraction through a democratic vote. At a time when the climate crisis is intensifying around the world and the Amazon rainforest is fast approaching an irreversible tipping point, this vote could not have come at a better time to send a message to oil producers around the world – sustainable energy sources must become the number one fuel source.
Nemonte Nenquimo, an Indigenous Waorani leader and winner of the Goldman prize for the environment, commented on the historic vote, “today is a historic day! As a Waorani woman and mother, I feel overjoyed with Ecuadorians’ resounding decision to stop oil drilling in my people’s sacred homeland.”
She adds, “finally, we are going to kick oil companies out of our territory! This is a major victory for all Indigenous peoples, for the animals, the plants, the spirits of the forest and our climate!”
The Ecuadorian effort to end fossil fuel production and usage demonstrates the power of the democratic process in the fight for the planet’s future. With more people becoming aware of the harms caused by CO2 emissions, it became evident that the only way forward was to make a significant shift away from detrimental fuel source.
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Leonidas Iza, president of Conaie, Ecuador’s umbrella Indigenous federation, also spoke up about the referendum, “this victory shows that we humans are taking action to save our planet during these times of climate crisis,” he states.
Pedro Bermeo, a founding member of Yasunidos, an activist group that gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures petitioning the referendum, stated that the vote demonstrated that the “greatest national consensus at this time is in defense of nature, the defense of Indigenous peoples and nationalities, and the defense of life.”
However, he goes on to warn, “the fight isn’t over. Even if politicians separate us, nature unites us and we will work together to ensure the government complies with the will of Ecuadorian people.”
Overall, this vote comes as a major blow to the South American fossil fuel industry. The binding referendum permanently bans oil drilling in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil project, located on the eastern edge of the Yasuní National Park. Drilled and refined by the state oil company, Petroecuador. They typically produce more than 57,000 barrels of oil a day, approximately 12% of Ecuador’s oil production.
Aside from the global environmental impact of the oil drilling, the micro biodiversity scale will also see huge benefits from this vote. In 1989, Yasuní was designated a world biosphere reserve by Unesco. It covers more than 1m hectares (2.5m acres) and is home to 610 species of birds, 139 species of amphibians and 121 species of reptiles. At least three species there are endemic. This referendum will ensure that both the global climate crisis as well as the local biodiversity issues are addressed with the best solution possible.