Nuzzled between the Andes and the Amazon rainforest, is one of the world’s richest pockets of biodiversity – the Yasuní. The Yasuní has the greatest biodiversity per square metre on the planet. 99.73% of the Yasuní consists of original natural vegetation.

The Yasuní is the lungs of the Earth. It captures CO2 and pumps oxygen and water vapour into the air that we all breathe. The water vapour helps the earth to regulate its temperature and acts like “air conditioning” for the planet. The destruction of this forest may be a Gladwellian tipping point, beyond which the trees may die and release carbon rather than absorb it.

Walled by towering ceibo and mahogany trees, this UNESCO biodiversity reserve is home to pink dolphins that thrive in the Tambococha and Jatuncocha lagoons. It is 9,823 km², and is nestled between the Napo and Curaray Rivers where the Hoatzins walk along quivering streams with their blue-skinned faces and red eyes. The reserve extends across the Napo, Pastaza, and Orellana provinces in Amazonian Ecuador.

Deep inside the Yasuní, there is an Intangible Zone (known by its Spanish acronym ZITT). It is a special area created to protect the Tagaeri and Taromenane – the two uncontacted First Nation Peoples who reside there. The Waorani, Dugakaeri, and Kichwa First Nation Peoples also live in blissful unity with the Yasuní Biosphere. But Block 43 is beneath their bare feet. Block 43 is also known as the Yasuní Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oilfield.  

Block 43, is not the only Block in the Yasuní. Blocks 16, 31, and 67 are also located in the Yasuni. Statistical data suggest they have produced more than 400 million barrels of oil for almost 30 years. Ecuador earned US$991M (£778M) from oil between January and July in 2023, less than half the US$2.3bn it received during the same period in 2022, according to data from the Ministry of Finance. The Tambococha heavy oil field extracted 42.64% of its total recoverable reserves, and peaked in 2019. Production may continue until the field reaches its economic limit in 2061.

Among the troubles in the Amazon Rainforest is the practice of constructing roads to gain access to remote extraction sites. These roads often become a catalyst that invites agriculture or other human activity, including deforestation. Deforestation has disturbing consequences on food security, biodiversity, and rising temperatures.

In a ground-breaking study that looks at forests by latitude to quantify local and global climate, Professors Lawrence, Coe, Walker, Verchot, and Vandecar found that tropical deforestation leads to strong net global warming, (Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, Vol. 5, March 2022).

Just north of the Napo River near Shushufindi the effects of human activity are vivid. Today it is almost completely surrounded by oil palm plantations since extraction commenced in the 1960s. Extraction has pitted the benefits of economic growth against climate democracy, especially since economic growth by itself does not alter intergenerational immobility and persistent poverty.

Latin America and the Caribbean remain one of the most unequal regions in the world (RED, 2022). The intergenerational persistence of inequality in the region is not only high, but it is inconsistent with levels of development.

The referendum on Block 43 was unprecedented, and a global prototype aimed purposely at democratising climate politics. It offered voters the opportunity to vote for the Amazon Rainforest, First Nation rights, and for nature.

The rating agency Fitch recently downgraded Ecuador’s credit score to CCC+, seven points below investment grade. Fitch cited a range of risks and it also forecasted a $600M fall in fiscal revenues due to a drop in oil output if the referendum succeeded. In a historic vote to stop the development of all new oil wells in the Yasuní, the national consensus was that over 726M barrels of oil would remain underground.

Trees are not sticks of carbon since forests distribute countless climate benefits. Trees are dissipative-structures. As the sun burns and dissipates its energy into our solar system, trees are the only structures that harness the heat and light energy and build new structures like branches, leaves, stems, flowers and fruits utilizing the energy dissipated during the collapse of another structure.

In a report from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, using satellite readings in the North Atlantic it was shown that global ocean sea surface temperatures in June 2023 were higher than any previous June on record. At the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) June 2023 set a record for the biggest difference between expected and actual sea surface temperatures. Without the forest cover we have now, the seas may only get hotter.

Forests keep the planet a minimum of at least half of a degree Celsius cooler when biophysical effects from chemicals to turbulence and the reflection and refraction of light are combined with CO2. In some places, the effect is more than one degree. Forests contribute to keeping the climate stable, apart from being carbon sponges.  In fact, studies now show that forests help to keep the air cool and moist due to the way they physically transform energy and water.