It's not a new idea, but it remains a revolutionary one: Fight climate change in part by paying biomass-rich nations to preserve their forests instead of cutting them down. The first elements of such a plan appeared in the Kyoto Protocol and it has been fleshed out in greater detail in the United Nation's REDD program.
The problem with these programs, however, is that they are difficult to fund. Forests—especially the old-growth forests that are commonly the target—are incredibly valuable commodities and as such, it costs a huge amount of money to offset the missed financial opportunity of not harvesting them.In Ecuador, this problem is compounded in one special place: The Yasuni region of the Amazon. Declared a Biosphere Preserve by UNESCO in 1989, the region is home to an estimated 40% of all of the mammal species found in the Amazon basin—among many other plant and animal species. Unfortunately, it also sits atop a suspected oil reserve.
The Yasuni Initiative is a program designed to protect this area from resource exploitation and, with the help of the UN and the Clinton Global Initiative, plans to raise $3.2 billion in 13 years. The surprising thing is that the funding plan is actually working: In only a few years, the program has already raised $116 million from governments, NGOs, and private donors.
Obviously, they have a long way to go before the fate of the Yasuni is secured, but if the funding model is a success, it could offer hope for other threatened regions around the world.