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Ecuador plan to avoid drilling axed

Ecuador's president Rafael Correa has said he has abandoned a unique and ambitious plan to persuade rich countries to pay his country not to drill for oil in a pristine Amazon rainforest preserve.

Environmentalists had hailed the initiative when Mr Correa first proposed it in 2007, saying he was setting a precedent in the fight against global warming by lowering the high cost to poor countries of preserving the environment.

"The world has failed us," he said in a nationally televised speech. He said the global recession was in part responsible but chiefly blamed "the great hypocrisy" of nations who emit most of the world's greenhouse gases.

"It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change."

Mr Correa had sought 3.6 billion US dollars (£2.3 billion) in contributions to maintain a moratorium on drilling in the remote Yasuni National Park, which was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations in 1989 and is home to two Indian tribes living in voluntary isolation.

But he said Ecuador had raised just 13 million dollars (£8.3 million) in pledges and that he had an obligation to his people, particularly the poor, to move ahead with drilling. The UN and private donors had put up the cash.

Mr Correa said he was proposing to the National Assembly, which his supporters control, oil exploration in Yasuni amounting to less than 1% of its 3,800 square miles

His no-drilling plan had envisioned rich countries paying Ecuador half the 7.2 billion dollars (£4.6 billion) in revenues expected to be generated over 10 years from the 846 million barrels of heavy crude estimated to be in Yasuni.

Not drilling in the reserve would keep 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, officials had said during their global lobbying campaign that included organising tours of the reserve for journalists. But while Mr Correa's proposal generated interest, there were few takers, in part because he insisted that Ecuador alone would decide how the donations would be spent. European countries expressed the most interest but still baulked.

Ecuador is an Opec member that depends on oil for a third of its national budget. The three oil fields in Yasuni represent 20% of its oil reserves.

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