Ecuadorean environmentalist Ivonne Baki discussed her country’s efforts to preserve the Amazon Rainforest in Intercultural Center Friday afternoon.

Baki, whose presentation was sponsored by the School of Foreign Service’s Center for Latin American Studies, is a former ambassador to the United States and the Secretary of State for Ecuador’s Yasuni-ITT initiative. Launched in 2007 by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, the initiative seeks to prevent oil drilling in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil field in Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest.

Baki, who lived in Lebanon during the Lebanese War, said she initially aspired to be a peacekeeper.

“I realized [during the bombings in Lebanon] how difficult it is to create life and how easy it is to destroy it in just a second. It’s unacceptable,” Baki said, “I thought [being a peacekeeper] was what I would do with my life, but then I visited the Yasuni.”

One of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, the Yasuni rainforest was threatened because of the vast oil reserves beneath it.
As part of the initiative, Ecuador promises to prohibit the extraction of oil from these fields in exchange for half of the monetary worth of the reserves – $3.6 billion – from the international community..

Baki explained that the monetary compensation to Ecuador is an integral part of the model.

“Ecuador is a developing country. It needs a lot of investment in education and infrastructure,” she said. “It is an oil-dependent country, and the easiest thing for us to do would be to [extract the oil], but we are committed to the environment.”

She also detailed the negative ramifications that could come from the rainforest’s destruction, including global warming and the loss of biodiversity.

“Actually, in the long-term, it would not be economically profitable to extract the oil,” Baki said. “You would lose [the long-term] resources that the forest provides.”

An important part of the initiative includes educating the local population about how to preserve the forest so the citizens of Ecuador can benefit from its resources. The program grants locals the tools necessary to take charge of the conservation effort.

“Social development is the most important part of our investment,” Baki said. “The most important part of what [the people in the Yasuni area] are asking for is work. We have to empower women and educate children.”

Recently, Baki has met with government officials in several countries, including the United States, to talk about monetary pledges for the United Nations Development Group, Yasuni Trust Fund. So far, the fund has raised $200 million and is projected to meet its $3.6 billion goal in the next 13 years.

However, Baki said it is even more important that she meets with civilians and students because the largest donations are individual contributions and because she relies on student support to raise awareness for the initiative.

“[Washington] is where they make the laws, and this is about creating laws. I want Georgetown University to take this … to Congress — take the [lead] and make this known.” Baki said “This is the only planet we have.”

Students who attended the event applauded the project’s innovative approach to sustainability.

“This is a great example of the innovation being applied in the realm of development these days, bridging concern for the environment and issues like sustainability in ways that are totally new,” Alex Blake (GRD ’14) said.

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