QUITO Ecuador signed a deal on Tuesday creating a trust fund to hold donations from Germany and other rich nations willing to pay the Andean country to refrain from drilling for oil in an Amazon wildlife reserve.
The plan, drawn up with the United Nations, applies to a 675-square-mile part of Yasuni National Park called the ITT section. Keeping oil firms out of the area would avoid dumping 410 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air, Ecuador says.
"This is a Ecuador's contribution toward combating climate change," Minister of Heritage Maria Espinosa told reporters.
Oil is Ecuador's chief export. The country holds the rotating presidency of OPEC this year.
Yasuni National Park, in the Amazon, is home to more species of wildlife than any other place on earth -- it has more different tree types than exist in all of North America, plus a huge variety of monkeys, birds and other wildlife, scientists say.
The government is asking donor countries such as Germany and Italy to pay about $3.6 billion, or about half of what the country would get from exploiting the oil, in exchange for keeping part of the area untouched.
Only Germany has signed a deal so far, promising $50 million per year over 12 years. As outrage grows over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Ecuador says it has a stronger argument than ever for its jungle protection plan.
"The impact of oil exploitation does not always have a technological response. There are a range of risks that we cannot control, as the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico shows us," Espinosa recently told Reuters.
"Right now, this is an avant-garde project. Ten years from now projects like this will be the rule, not the exception," she said. "We need new scenarios. We need post-oil economies. We need to create new models of production and consumption."
(Writing by Hugh Bronstein; editing by Jim Marshall)