The people of Ecuador voted on Sunday to halt all current and future oil drilling in the heart of Yasuni National Park in the Amazon rainforest. This comes after decades of organizing led by a coalition of Indigenous peoples, youth, and activists from across the country. Voters also chose to ban all mining in the Choco Andino forest, near the country’s capital, Quito.
The vote to “keep the oil in the soil” is a historic move: it means that an estimated 1.67 billion barrels of crude oil will remain in the ground, implementing a moratorium on current and future drilling in the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT) area of Yasuni National Park, one of the most intact sections remaining in the Amazon River Basin. It also protects the rights of the Taromenane, Tagaeri, and Dugakaeri Indigenous peoples, living in voluntary isolation.
For the first time anywhere, a nation-wide referendum achieved a moratorium to both halt new and roll back existing fossil fuel operations.
Yasuni is a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve, one of the most biodiverse places on earth, and home to nearly one million hectares of tropical rainforest. Oil exploration and production has caused extensive damage to the Ecuadorian Amazon and its inhabitants. Indigenous peoples have faced harassment, repression, and even death as they led oil resistance efforts.
“Today we made history!”, declared organizers from the group YASunidos on social media. “This consultation, born from the people, demonstrates the greatest national consensus in Ecuador. It is the first time that a country decides to defend life and leave oil underground. It is a historic victory for Ecuador and for the planet!”
The share of Ecuador’s gross domestic product from oil has plummeted to just over 6 percent in 2021, from a high of 18.7 percent in 2008. Yet the cost of constant oil spills, health and human rights harms, and the climate crisis grows.
Moratoria against fossil fuel operations are increasingly popular and expanding worldwide. Costa Rica, South Africa, Belize, and New Zealand, among others, have implemented moratoria.
Burning fossil fuels and deforestation drive the climate crisis. Ecuador’s people have shown the world how to confront the climate crisis head-on, protecting both people and the planet using a model others can follow.
To uphold their human rights obligations, governments should phase out of fossil fuels and protect forests and forest peoples everywhere.