Ecuador: Referendum halts oil drilling in Yasuní National Park

Vote YES for Yasuní Historic! The YES won: the YES refers to keeping the oil in the ground. (© Yasunid@s) Parrots in Yasuni National Park Parrots are part of the great biodiversity in the Yasuní National Park (© Pedro Bermeo)

Aug 24, 2023

A majority of people in Ecuador voted to end oil production in Yasuní National Park in a binding referendum. This is a huge victory for Indigenous people as well as environmental and human rights organizations in the South American country. Rainforest Rescue supported the Yasuní campaign by raising awareness and providing funding.

For more than ten years, an alliance of Indigenous, environmental and human rights organizations in Ecuador fought for a referendum to let the people vote on ending oil production in the rainforest of Yasuní National Park. Previously, the government and state institutions had resorted to legally dubious machinations to prevent such a vote.

Only after the Yasuní Initiative had taken legal action through all instances up to the Constitutional Court could the referendum finally be held. From April onward, the activists tirelessly traveled the country to inform voters about the referendum, its goals and the catastrophic impact of the oil industry. Their efforts were a success –  the YES to end oil production in Yasuní National Park won clearly with 59 percent, versus 41 percent for NO.

In another referendum on mining in Quito, the people also voted in favor of protecting people and nature: 68 percent of the votes cast rejected mining projects in the Andes.

Indigenous territory – land with the highest biodiversity in the world

Yasuní is home to Indigenous peoples such as the Waorani, as well as groups living in voluntary isolation. Yasuní’s rainforests are among the world’s most biodiverse: On 25 hectares (0.25 km²) alone, 1,104 different tree species were documented – in one case, no less than 644 tree species were counted on a single hectare (0.01 km²). Those are far more species than in the whole of Europe.

The referendum and its outcome set a global precedent: For the first time, the population of a country was given the opportunity to vote on the future of oil production. The Ecuadorian government and the state oil company Petroecuador must now stop oil production in Yasuní and dismantle all production facilities, oil pipelines and infrastructure within one year.

Politicians on the side of the fossil fuel industry

Shortly before the referendum, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso and the oil industry tried to stir up public opinion against the Yasuní initiative and its demand to end to oil production in the national park. Lasso claimed that without the oil revenue from Yasuní, education, healthcare and other public services would have to be cut drastically.

The majority of Ecuadorian voters were not swayed by the threats, however. By pushing through the referendum and gaining widespread support for the end of the oil industry in Yasuní National Park, they have sent a signal far beyond the borders of the South American country: that our consumption of fossil fuels – especially in the global North – is destroying people’s livelihoods, nature and the global climate and must be ended quickly.

The YES of the people for the protection of the Yasuní National Park also amounts to a clear rebuff for the Brazilian President Lula da Silva. At the Amazon summit held by Brazil in the city of Belém at the beginning of August, Lula's veto had prevented a joint declaration by the eight countries bordering the Amazon region, which had spoken out against new oil projects in the rainforest.

Support by Rainforest Rescue

Rainforest Rescue supported the Yasuní initiative with 40,000 euros. The donations were used to produce information materials for public relations work and the referendum, and to finance events, travel expenses, and meals for the many volunteers. Rainforest Rescue collected half of the donations via crowdfunding together with other European organizations.

  1. YESYasuní referendum:
    Consejo Nacional Electoral 2023. Consulta Popular Yasuní:

  2. another referendumChocó Andino mining referendum:
    Consejo Nacional Electoral 2023. Consulta Popular Chocó Andino / Pichincha / Quito:

  3. tree speciesSave America’s Forests. YASUNÍ—TREE DIVERSITY MAP & INFORMATION

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