In a historic referendum, on August 20th the vast majority of Ecuadorian voters demonstrated their support for keeping over 726 million barrels of oil underground in the Yasuni National Park. The vote was won with 59% of participating voters choosing to kick the oil industry out of Yasuni.
Yasuni, located in the northern Amazon rainforest, is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, the ancestral territory of the Waorani nation, and home to two of the world’s last Indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation.
As the climate crisis worsens, with global emissions and temperatures continuing to rise, the decision by Ecuadorian voters is momentous, setting a planetary precedent for the democratization of climate politics. Despite the intensive propaganda of the oil industry, warning of the economic consequences of a decision to curb oil drilling, citizens voted to say that there are clear limits to resource extraction, and another economic model is needed, one which protects ecosystems and the rights of Indigenous nations.
The binding decision of this referendum permanently bans oil drilling in the Yasuni park, and forces Ecuadorian state oil company to dismantle 12 oil platforms and 225 wells that are currently operational in the area.
It’s worth just sitting with that implication: people power is forcing the fossil industry to pack up and leave. This is a major victory for Indigenous rights, for rainforest conservation, for corporate accountability and for the climate we all share. The decision also permanently protects and safeguards the ancestral homeland of the Waorani people and their relatives living in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri and Taromenane communities. By banning oil extraction in this area of the Amazon, 345 million tons of carbon will no longer be released into the atmosphere.
The vote is both a landslide victory for life, and a window into a possible future. A future where decisions over resource extraction are in the hands of people not corporations. A future where biodiverse Indigenous lands are not designated as sacrifice zones, but protected as sacred lands.
This victory comes off the back of decades of resistance and organizing by grassroots movements in Ecuador, which is at the forefront of solutions to extractivism. In 2008, the country became the first in the world to recognize the rights of nature. In 2019, the Waorani Indigenous people secured a landmark legal victory protecting half-a-million acres of primary rainforest territory from oil drilling. In 2022, A’i Cofan communities in Sinangoe, won a historic ruling before the country’s highest court, blocking dozens of gold mining licenses issued by the Ecuadorian government, and guaranteeing the rights of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent.
What these victories show is that when we come together and stand up for our communities with dignity, we can win. By securing this victory for Yasuni, Ecuador has created an invaluable milestone and clarion call in one of the most pressing battles of our time: a bold transition beyond fossil fuels and extractivism. As Leonidas Iza, president of the national Indigenous umbrella organization CONAIE, invites: ‘We hope other countries around the world see this triumph and our message, so that other citizens can also exercise their rights and use direct democracy to save life, save the forest, save nature and ourselves as humans.’
Together, with our Indigenous partners, we are honored to support this struggle, centering Indigenous-led solutions and leadership at the center of our shared vision for a safer, healthier, and more just future for us all. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll unpack the makings of this triumph for you and share the game plan on what it’s going to take to ensure that Big Oil actually leaves the Yasuni rainforest!