Re-thinking oil: compensation for non-production in Yasuní National Park challenging sumak kawsay and degrowth

Lucía Gallardo Fierro*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was an innovative development proposal based on the non-production of oil in Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, in exchange for international compensation, eitherin the form of direct payment or payment for environmental services. My aim is to investigate how the different actors understand this compensation for non-production of oil in Ecuador, an oil dependent country. Using a chronological review of the Initiative and forty in-depth interviews with key players, I critically engage the ‘environmental narrative’ around the Initiative inspired by sumak kawsay -a philosophy of life based on non-mercantilist values, known as “well living” in English or “buen vivir” in Spanish- and degrowth. In this article I argue that understanding the Initiative as an environmental matter and not as a problem of oil rent dependency exemplifies the limits of sumak kawsay and degrowth as proposals for an alternative to development. Results from Yasuní show that the Initiative ended up reproducing the fictions of nature valuation instead of de-linking nature from the valuation process. By drawing on a critical political economic framework, this paper shows that categories such as “dependency” and “rent” are fundamental in understanding the challenges of moving away from extraction-based development in developing countries. In summary, failing to differentiate between payment for the non-production of oil and compensation from the environmental services, Yasuní was a ´lost ‘opportunity for a bottom-up debate on what to produce and what not.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-274
Number of pages12
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Degrowth
  • Dependency non-production of oil
  • Nature
  • Rent
  • Sumak kawsay
  • Yasuní


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