31 Oct 2008

Anita’s visit puts Yasuní on the map

Phew. It’s the end of our Grand Launch Week for the Yasuní campaign, and I think we’ve really got somewhere. Anita Rivas, the mayor of Orellana in the Yasuní region, arrived in the UK last weekend. In the space of just five days, and with a little help from her friends, she has managed to put Yasuní on the agendas of British MPs, government officials and even a minister.

Her message was simple but powerful. ‘The biggest issue today is climate change. By helping Yasuní, you will be helping the world.’ Her aim was to persuade the British Government to support Ecuador’s proposal to leave the oil in the ground and preserve the extraordinary Yasuní rainforest. But most importantly, she was here to ensure that the rights and needs of local and indigenous people are taken into account in the process.

The week has been a whirl of lobbying, meetings and interviews. We’re all exhausted - though Anita doesn’t have time to be, she’s gone to Luxumbourg for the day to address local governments before heading down to Spain for another week’s of campaigning. But I think it’s been a storming success.

It began on Monday with a meeting with officials from three different government departments working on forests and climate change. They did not know about the proposal (despite it having been presented to the UN and the EU). So our crack campaign team, comprising Anita, Georgie and Ginés from the Yasuni Green Gold campaign, and Richard and I from NI, spent the rest of the week trying to put it on the Government’s agenda.

Highlights included:
- A launch event, attended by 200 people including experts on Ecuador, forests, climate change and indigenous people. Speakers included Anita, the deputy Ambassador of Ecuador, and environmentalist Tony Juniper.
- Agreement from the Ecuadorian Embassy that they will formally approach the British Government with the proposal in the next few weeks.
- A promise from Steve Webb, Lib Dem spokesperson on energy and climate change, to meet with the Ecuadorian Ambassador about improving the proposal by allowing local people to participate in developing it.
- Going into Waterstones with Georgie, Gines and Anita, to find copies of the Yasuní Green Gold book on the shelves! (See photo below).
- A session in the House of Commons, chaired by Colin Challen MP who is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Climate Change. It was attended by MPs, Lords and a Baroness. The campaign received enthusiastic support and offers of help from two other APPGs.
- Colin Challen also tabled an Early Day Motion - which is like a petition for MPs to sign - in full support of the Yasuní Green Gold campaign. If you live in Britain, get in touch with your MP and ask them to sign EDM 2192!

It all culminated yesterday in a really positive meeting with new Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Joan Ruddock. She told us that ‘the Government is in favour of such initiatives - our sympathies and goodwill are there.’ It was clear that the door is open. As soon as the Ecuadorian embassy contacts her, she will begin to consider whether Britain can help make the plan happen.

So watch this space…

I’m worried though. It’s easy to agree that the oil should stay in the ground in principle. The controversy begins with discussions about where the money is going to come from.

There’s a real risk that Yasuní will be seized upon by carbon trading firms intent on turning it into a giant carbon offset, and the once visionary scheme will lose its integrity, its potential for involving and benefiting local people, and any contribution it might make to overall global carbon emissions reductions. Carbon trading lobbyists from three different banks turned up to the Yasuní Parliamentary event to express their enthusiasm for getting involved, and wanting to know who to lobby. Next week a report commissioned by the British Government will come out strongly in favour of financing forest preservation through the international carbon markets.

So, not content with allowing bankers to screw up our economy, we’re now going to put them in charge of solving climate change???? Whatever planet these people are on, it’s not going to last much longer at this rate.

The Yasuní campaign is about more than just finding the money to preserve the forest. It’s about doing so in the right way. A way that is fair, and effective, and will benefit the local people who live there over the long term. As Anita put it:

‘Carbon trading is a weak way of dealing with this problem - it’s like putting the wrong sort of medicine in your body. This is about the larger countries needing to recognize that smaller countries like Ecuador are giving the world a lot in terms of ecology. They need to start giving something back; to change their exploitative attitude and start paying for what they are getting. This why the international campaign to save Yasuní is so important. There will be grave consequences for the world if it is not preserved.’

Also published in the NI Yasuni blog

The Independent on the Yasuni Green Gold book

Go here to check it out

A very quick summery of what went down in Spain...

Sunday: We were in Tarragona with Ali Supay, Marlon Santi president of CONAIE and Jose Proaño Ecuadorian anthropologist and activist. We all met in Tarragona with local organisations there such as Repsol Mata, to talk about the different issues in the Yasuni and for the indigenous people of the region.

Monday: Morning we do a radio interview in Altafulle and head off to Barcelona to the office of I-With where Gines and Anita are immediately thrust onto the phone to do more interviews.

Tuesday: We have the presentation of the book in Barcelona in the UOC in the morning after yet more radio interviews. Present are various organisations with which we have been working in Barcelona such as Ideatik, Eutopia, Consultants without boarders and I-with as well as a representative from the Ecuadorian Embassy, Marlon, Jose and other groups.
From here we sped off to Girona where we had another presentation at the University of Girona where we are met by Engineers without Borders, already familiar with the situation in the Yasuni and enthusiastic to help where they can.

Wednesday: We were off bright and early to Madrid where we have a press conference at the Circulo de Bellas Artes. Again we are met by a representative of the Ecuadorian Embassy and are thrilled when El Mundo, the most read newspaper in Spain, published a huge feature length article about the Yasuni and the campaign following the meeting.

Gines and Anita then whizz off to some more radio interviews and then a meeting with the Department for International Development…

That evening we head off to Seville!

Thursday: Early that morning we are picked up and taken to Cadiz where we are bundled into the university press room to sign contracts of co-operation. We then go to the local government where we are given the grand tour… That evening we go back to the university to give another presentation of the campaign and book.

Friday: Is off to the Diputación de Cordoba, who are also very involved in the region and keen to help.

28 Oct 2008

Tony Juniper talks about the Yasuni

Tony Juniper talks at the yasuni green gold launch event at amnesty about why the Yasuni is important in relation to Current International enviromenal talks.

14 Oct 2008

Thursday, Joan Ruddock and Amnesty International

Thursday afternoon we head off once again to Westminister to meet with Joan Ruddock from the Depatment for Energy and Climate Change. She has managed to squeeze us in between the madness of the creation of this new department. We are told by her PA that she usually does not have a moment to spare but had managed to find a space for us as she was so interested in the campaign. We filled Joan in on the campaign quickly and Anita told her about how her and Lupe had lead a people´s revolution in Orellana demanding that their basic rights be met. She was very supportive of the Yasuni Green Gold Camapign, she agreed with us that the ITT proposal was important and that the British government would support it in principal. She also agreed that inorder to get the proposal through there needed to be the clarification and gaurentees the campaign asked for and that when the proposal is presented to her she would relay these points. She asked us to keep her updated on the status of the proposal and progress of the campaign. Another good result!

After this we sped off to Amnesty International. Anita was thrilled for the chance to thank in person the organisation that had played such a big part in releasing her friend and fellow activist Guadalupe Llori. They were also excitied to meet Anita and hear all about her human rights work.

10 Oct 2008

John Vidal from The Guardian names Anita woman of the week

John Vidal from The Guardian writes:

"Prize for the most impressive woman in Britain this week could go to Anita Rivas, an inspirational Ecuadorean who was in London to see the government and fight for the preservation of the extraordinarily rich Yasuní national park. This Amazonian treasure should be protected, but Argentine, French and local oil companies have started drilling, and a worldwide campign against them has started. "If we keep the oil below the ground, not only will we conserve an enormously diverse area, home to many indigenous people, but also we will become a universal symbol that a new world is possible," said Anita. Shame that the new Department of Energy and Climate Change could not find time to see her."

The same day we contacted the new Department of Energy and Climate Change only to find that Joan Ruddock, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, had made time to see us the next day....!

Yasuní Green Gold Early Day Motion 2192


Challen, Colin
"That this House welcomes the proposal of the Ecuadorian government to preserve the Yasuní forest by asking the international community to pay for not exploiting the oil reserves which lie underneath it; but believes that the proposal must include an unconditional, non-reversible commitment from the Ecuadorian government to preserve Yasuní and protect the human rights of its people and must include an unlimited extension of the time given to reach agreement on how to do this and an international process led by the Ecuadorian Government, with full participation from local and indigenous groups in the region, to create a clear, coherent and fully representative proposal for securing a long-term sustainable future for Yasuní; believes that this process should work in partnership with supportive non-governmental organisations and governments, and must also include a further assurance that any financial support from governments will come through an open, democratic and accountable process, and will not involve carbon trading, World Bank funding or debt cancellation schemes, which have proved ineffective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and damaging to local people's rights around the world; and finally considers that the proposal must include an assurance that any other projects which may have a negative impact on the area will not be allowed to go ahead."

So far we have 16 signatures - get your MPs on board!

Wednesday: a Yasuní Green Gold meeting at the House of Commons

Colin Challen kindly set up a meeting for us in the House of Commons. His introduction showed a clear understanding of the concerns of the campaign and set us up well to go on and talk in more detail. Colin has also started an Early-Day-Motion (see next blog entry) a petition outlining the campaign asks for MPs to sign - So get your MP to sign!
Colin also offered to write to ministers and departments and most importantly to ask a question about the Yasuní to Gordon Brown at Prime Ministers question time!

Also excited and willing to lend a hand was Baroness Hooper who is very interested in both Ecuador and environmental issues. We were thrilled that Martin Horwood the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples which works alongside Survival International was also behind the campaign saying he thought it was great in bringing together all the issues and would help in whatever way he could.

Good result!

Tuesday with Simon Webb the environmental adviser to the Liberal Democrats

Tuesday we were a little more together, we now had well planned out how we were going to construct the meetings, what we were going to say and what we were asking for. Simon was great he said he would invite the Ambassador in the present the proposal and that he would put forward the campaign concerns, guarantees for the Yasuni and it people and a clear idea as to where the money would go and an unlimited time in which to work these things out.

The Guardian reaction to the Launch..

Haroon Siddique from That Guardian newspaper was present on Monday night, read his review of the evening here

Monday Evening – Campaign and Book launch in Amnesty UK

We were so pleased to have the Ecuadorian Ambassador’s second in command (the Ambassador was not in the country), Anita (mayor of Orellana), Ginés and Tony Juniper speaking at the event. We also had a special message from Penti, a Waorani leader in the Yasuní, who had been unable to attend the event in person but instead sent a powerful speech.

The Embassy representative began by presenting the national proposal followed by Anita who gave an emotional speech about growing up in Coca, her fight for the human rights of her people and the hope that they all had that the international community would help the oil to be kept in the ground. She also gave a special thanks to Amnesty who had been so instrumental in fighting for the release of fellow human rights activist, leader and friend, Guadalupe Llori who had been wrongfully imprisoned for a year.

Ginés Haro, Co-director of the Yasuni green Gold Campaign, then followed up Anita’s message with the memory that when he left Orellana Anita had said to him “don’t forget us”. He had never been able to and hoped that those present would not forget the Yasuní and would work with the campaign to fight for its preservation and the rights of it’s inhabitants.

Tony Juniper, previous leader of FoE Interntional, now part of the Princes Trust finished off the speeches with a reflection on the international Environmental context, the move into the post-Kyoto era and the possibilities for the Yasuní.

Then followed an interesting set of comments from the audience. Some interesting points were brought up in during the discussion things such as the contradictions in the governments behaviour, plans and statements that seem to contradict attempts to be progressive in the human and environmental rights particularly the people of the Oriente. This is so true, there are so many issues which complicate the situation as you can see on the campaign page where we talk about national parallel projects and legislation which is at odds with the ITT proposal.

However the campaign believes that keeping a dialogue open with the national government and supporting positive actions is crucial. Although we need to be open and critical, we also need to make sure we properly support the positive things coming out of the government such as this initiative. There are problems with it and these need to be addressed, however such huge proposals are very rarely perfect first time round and need to be worked on with all the concerned parties.

If we only criticise and do not work on the positive aspects the only people who benefit are the oil companies. They have so far been taking advantage of the division and differences between people so it is important that we come together on the ground that we have in common – that is to preserve the Yasuni and its people.

Another point was that the ITT is not the Yasuní. This is very true, the Yasuní is much bigger than just this reserve and other parts of the Yasuní are already being or have already been exploited for oil. However this block is the furthest into the Yasuní that the oil companies have been – it is right in the heart of the park and if it goes ahead it will open up the whole area to logging and contamination – the people of the Yasuní will have no where left to go that is safe.

The ITT block is symbolic in saying the buck stops here, oil companies can go no further, there are more important things. As Anita said, we have to start putting life before oil.

Monday morning… meeting at Dfid (UK Department for International Development)

So we all piled into the meeting room at Dfid taking a pace around the huge rectangular table. We were greeted by John Hudson, Senior Forestry Adviser, Dr Amy Sullivan from the Climate and Environment Group and a representative from the Foreign Office. Anita started off by telling them all about what was happening in Orellana to her people and to the region, we were slightly taken aback (but not completely put off) when we were told that a plea for bio-diversity and indigenous people was 10 years too late, that what they were now interested in was Climate Change. Anita told them about how important these issues were to climate change but that also her people and the bio-diversity of the region had to be a priority, she was not prepared to sell them on the market.

We came to what we wanted which was for them to respond to the Ecuadorian government’s proposal officially with initial support but with the improvements laid out on our campaign page.

They said that they were unable to response as they do not believe they have been officially invited by the Ecuadorian government to participate… so our first mission on hearing such news was make sure the Ambassador be invited to present the proposal…

5 Oct 2008

Anita arrives in London...

...7.30am we are waiting nervously at the airport waiting for Anita, did she make it through security okay? Perhaps she got lost coming through baggage reclaim? Maybe she didn't make the plane where she had to change in Amsterdam? Finally we see her and she rushes towards us, a look of relief on her face. She tells us how she had forgotten to ask us for the address of where she was staying whilst in London and just kept repeating to security that she was staying with Gines Haro - they were not very impressed. Finally she whipped out a copy of the NI and showed them her picture and told them she was a mayor from the Amazon and had come to ask for help from the government to protect her people. "They all looked so suprised!" she laughed.

We bundle her into taxi and rush off to our first appointment, we are relieved to see that despite the 16 hours journey and complete culture shock, Anita is perky and ready for an interview with the Telegraph.

2 Oct 2008

Yasuni Events - some dates for the diary!

We have a busy busy few weeks ahead of us..

On Monday the 6th of October Anita Rivas, mayor of the Yasuní region (Orellana) will be in the UK to present the issues currently facing the region at the Yasuni Green Gold launch. The event will be held at the Amnesty Human Rights centre in east London and will be looking forward to the attendence of people such as Tony Juniper, the Ecuadorian vice-ambassador and organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

That morning we will also be having a meeting with DFID, the UK department for international development, and the environmental adviser to Gordon Brown..

On Tuesday we will be meeting with Steve Webb the Lib Dem Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs with a possible showing from Nick Clegg...?

On Wednesday we will be holding a parliamentary meeting and we currently have Tom, who is helping out in the office, trying to get as many MPs as possible to that meeting.

Then Friday morning Anita and Ginés will shoot off to Luxembourg where they have been invited to talk at the Climate Alliance of European Cities with the Indigenous Rainforest Peoples!

On Saturday we head off to Spain with Anita where we'll be doing presentations in Barcelona, Madrid, Cadiz and Cordoba - if you want to come along drop us a line and we'll let you know where to go..

What has Yasuni Green Gold been up to....?

Since we got the book out of the way the Yasuni Green Gold team has been hard at work - doing what you cry?!

Well for a start we have been preparing this lovely new website with a lot of help from our friends...There is still a lot of work to do we know, lots of things missing; lists, letters, banners, downloads, flyers the list goes on! But we are getting there bit by bit so bare with us, the site is improving daily! If you have anything you can help with, maybe you have sent a letter to a minister and we can put it up as an example to help others - let us know!

We've been going round doing talks about the Yasuní and setting up local groups, these are crucial in helping spread the word and creating a Yasuní support network. If you want to create a Yasuní group near you, drop us a line and we'll do what we can to help.

We've been lobbying politicians and NGOs on the phone and by sending them books, thanks to all those kind 'donate a book' contributions to get them on board and start campaigning about the Yasuní.

The New Internationalist also took on this initiative and asked its readers, after finishing with their Yasuni magazine, to put it back in it's envelope and send it on a decision-maker.

So, what is all this lobbying in aid of…..?

We are trying to draw as many groups as possible together to campaign on the Yasuni – this is currently a three pronged attack!

First prong is an NGO sign-on statement, which is almost finished, professing the importance of the Yasuni, its people and what must happen next. You will hopefully be able to view this online very soon!

Second prong is a petition that everyone can stick their name down on in support for the Yasuní and its people.

And the third prong is parliamentary. This is currently being focused on the UK government but hopefully with a bit more support we can get it going around the world. We have an early-day-motion starting. This is like a petition that MPs sign to say something is important to them, if enough MPs sign it – they could discuss the issue in parliament. To push this motion along we have organised a parliamentary meeting on Wednesday in the house of commons with Anita the mayor of the Yasuní region of Orellana and someone from the campaign introducing the issues and then a discussion of how the UK government can be involved to follow....