In return for billions from rich nations, Ecuador vows no oil drilling in Amazon preserve

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador pledged in a pioneering agreement with the United Nations on Tuesday to refrain from oil drilling in a pristine Amazon preserve in return for some $3.6 billion in payments from rich nations.

The accord, signed by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and Rebeca Grynspan, associate administrator of the U.N. Development Program, sets up a trust fund to be administered by the world body.

The three oilfields under the Yasuni preserve would remain untapped for a decade under the pact. They are estimated to hold 846 million barrels of crude, or 20 percent of Ecuador's reserves.

The $3.6 billion represents about half the expected earnings from the sale of the oil that would have been removed from Yasuni, a 982,000-hectare (3,800-square-mile) expanse declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989.

Officials say keeping the oil in the ground will prevent 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

In addition to being home to unique species of birds, amphibians and monkeys, the Yasuni hosts tribes of the Huarani people, a hunter-gatherer indigenous group threatened by the encroachment of loggers and other settlers.

Grynspan, a former Costa Rican vice president, called the program "so innovative we would like to bring it to other latitudes." She mentioned Guatemala, Vietnam and Nigeria as potential candidates.

Countries that have expressed interest in contributing to the Yasuni fund include Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and the United States.

Ecuador's heritage minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said Germany had made an initial pledge of $50 million to the trust fund. However, the German Embassy would not immediately confirm that information.

Ecuadoran officials said they would soon send delegations to potential donor nations, including countries in the Middle East, to secure fund commitments.