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Yasuní – To Yasunize

Yasuní, a national park located in the Ecuadorean Amazon, has been declared a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Scientists from all over the world have recognised Yasuní as the zone with the highest biodiversity of the world. Yasuni is also the territory of the indigenous Huaorani and other related clans who live in voluntary isolation. Besides its natural biological richness, Yasuní is also home to reserves of about 847 million barrels of oil, concentrated in three large oil fields, called the Ishpingo, the Tiputini, and the Tambococha (ITT).

Oil exploitation in the park would cause foreseeable contamination, deforestation, destruction of social fabric, and extinction of cultures. These threats have inspired environmental organisations in Ecuador to develop a campaign to leave the unexploited oil in the soil of Yasuní (Rival, 2010). Alongside other initiatives, this most recent campaign questions the environmental injustices of carbon trading and other neo-liberal policies regarding climate change that impose false “green solutions”. Instead this proposal appeals for recognition of the ecological debt that northern countries owe to Ecuador.

Adopting such a mechanism proponents argue, the government could gather at least 50% of the income it would have obtained by extracting the crude oil. At the national level, the initiative represents a profound questioning of extractivistivism. It appeared at the time when the government was starting to grant concessions for large-scale mining. EJOs in response highlighted negative past experiences with oil extraction, calling for the avoidance of further opening of new oil frontiers inside indigenous territories and protected areas. From its beginnings it included arguments from the communities against oil policies and projects that feed and maintain the capitalist model (Ramirez Gallegos 2012). Thus, the the Yasuni proposal strengthens peoples’ struggles that intend not only to protect their own territories but are in defense of the planet as a whole. The need to protect and stand behind such resistance is a priority in times of the increasing national and international criminalisation and persecution of human and nature rights defenders.

The Yasuni-ITT Initiative is based across several different axes and lines of argumentation, including those related to territory, to the dominant economic model and to international politics. In particular, they wish to:

  • Conserve an incomparable biodiversity;
  • Protect the territory and the life of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation;
  • Protect local, national and global climate, avoiding the destruction of an area where the mature tropical rainforest acts as a climate regulator:
  • Avoid 410 million tons of CO2 emissions;
  • Take the first step towards the transition to a post oil Ecuador as an extractivist model for others to follow;
  • Discuss the common but differentiated responsibilities to overcome the extractivist model;
  • Discuss oil dependency at all levels and build oil-free territories.

Terms that developed from the Yasuní case
Yasunize has thus emerged as a new term of environmental geopolitics, used to describe a way of protecting sites of special ecological and cultural value. It has come to form part of the vocabulary of a new civilizational paradigm that questions economic growth and dependence on oil, and seeks to address the resulting climatic crisis. Yasunize implies the necessity of conserving nature and the means of community life as a point of departure toward change toward another world.

Yasuni = Sacred land
Yasunize = Protect sacred land
Yasunization = Protection of sacred land
Yasunized = Sacred protected land


Ramírez Gallegos, René (2012) Izquierda y ‘buen capitalismo’ – Un aporte crítico desde América Latina, Nueva Sociedad 237.

Rival, Laura (2010) Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT Initiative: The old and new values of petroleum, Ecological Economics. 70(2) 358–365.

OILWATCH. Abrigando futuros. Quito, june 2012.

Useful websites

This glossary entry is based on a contribution by Ivonne Yanez

EJOLT glossary editors: Hali Healy, Sylvia Lorek and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

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