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Category: 2018

Impacts of Certification, Uncertified Concessions, Hunting Zones and Protected Areas on Forest Loss in Cameroon, 2000 to 2013

Stephanie Panlasigui, Jimena Rico-Straffon, Alexander Pfaff, Jennifer Swenson, Colby Loucks
Biological Conservation 227:160-166

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Deforestation and forest fragmentation are leading drivers of biodiversity loss. Protected areas have been the leading conservation policy response, yet their scale and scope remain inadequate to meet biodiversity conservation targets. Managed forest concessions increasingly have been recognized as a complement to protected areas in meeting conservation targets. Similarly, programs for voluntary third-party certification of concession management aim to create incentives for logging companies to manage forests more sustainably. Rigorous evidence on the impacts from large-scale certification programs is thereby critical, yet detailed field observations are limited, temporally and spatially. Remotely-sensed data, in contrast, can provide repeated observations over time and at a fine spatial scale, albeit with less detail. Using the Global Forest Change dataset, we examine annual forest loss in Cameroon during 2000–2013 to assess the impact of Forest Stewardship Council certification, as well as uncertified logging concessions and national parks. We use panel regressions that control for the effects of unobserved factors that vary across space or time. We find low forest loss inside the boundaries of each management intervention, with < 1% lost over the study period. Yet those low levels of loss appear to be influenced more by a site’s proximity to drivers of deforestation, such as distances to population centers or roads, than by national parks, uncertified concessions, or certification. The exception is that if a site faces high deforestation pressure, uncertified logging concessions appear to reduce forest loss. This may reflect private companies’ incentives to protect rights to forest use. Such an influence of private logging companies could provide a foundation for future impacts from certification upon rates of forest loss, at least within areas that are facing elevated deforestation pressures.

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Nature can deliver on the SDGs

Brendan Fisher, Diego Herrera, Diane Adams, Helen E. Fox, Louise Gallagher, Drew Gerkey, David Gill, Christopher D. Golden, David Hole, Kiersten Johnson, Mark Mulligan, Samuel S. Myers, Robin Naidoo, Alexander Pfaff, Ranaivo Rasolofoson, Elizabeth Selig, David Tickner, Timothy Treuer, Taylor Ricketts
Lancet Planetary Health

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The increasing availability of data and improved analytic techniques now enable us to better understand when and where investing in nature can deliver net benefits for people − especially with respect to the most vulnerable populations in developing countries. These advances open the door for efficient interventions that can advance multiple SDGs at once. Recently, we harmonized a suite of global datasets to explore the critical nexus of forests, poverty and human health – an overlap of SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6 and 15. Our approach combined demographic and health surveys for 297,112 children in 35 developing countries with data describing the local environmental conditions for each child4 (Fig. 1a; see online materials for details). This allowed us to estimate the effect forests may play in supporting human health, while controlling for the influence of important socio-economic differences. We extended this work to look at how forests affect three childhood health concerns of global significance – stunting, anemia, and diarrheal disease.

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Contracts versus Trust for Transfers of Nature’s Services: equity and efficiency in resource allocation and environmental provision

Alexander Pfaff, Maria Alejandra Velez, Amar Hamoudi, Renzo Taddei, Kenneth Broad
Water Resources & Economics 2018

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Managing natural-resource allocation and environmental externalities is a challenge. Institutional designs are central when improving water quality for downstream users, for instance, and when reallocating water quantities including for climate adaptation. Views differ on which institutions are best: states; markets; or informal institutions. For transfers of ecosystem services, we compare informal trust-based institutions to enforced contracts, both being institutional types we observe commonly in the field. The trust-based institutions lack binding promises, thus ecosystem-services suppliers are unsure about the compensation they will receive for transferring services to users. We employ decision experiments given the shortcomings of the alternative methods for empirical study of institutions, as well as the limits on theoretical prediction about behaviors under trust. In our bargaining game that decouples equity and efficiency, we find that enforced contracts increased efficiency as well as all measures of equity. This informs the design of institutions to manage transfers of ecosystem services, as equity in surplus sharing is important in of itself and in permitting efficient allocation.


Land-use and land-cover change shape the sustainability and impacts of protected areas

Anteneh Tesfaw, Alexander Pfaff, Rachel E. Golden Kroner, Siyu Qin, Rodrigo Medeiros and Michael B. Mascia
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(9):2084-2089

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Protected areas (PAs) remain the dominant policy to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services but have been shown to have limited impact when development interests force them to locations with lower deforestation pressure. Far less known is that such interests also cause widespread tempering, reduction, or removal of protection [i.e., PA downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD)]. We inform responses to PADDD by proposing and testing a bargaining explanation for PADDD risks and deforestation impacts. We examine recent degazettements for hydropower development and rural settlements in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon. Results support two hypotheses: (i) ineffective PAs (i.e., those where internal deforestation was similar to nearby rates) were more likely to be degazetted and (ii) degazettement of ineffective PAs caused limited, if any, additional deforestation. We also report on cases in which ineffective portions were upgraded. Overall our results suggest that enhancing PAs’ ecological impacts enhances their legal durability.


Conservation Impacts of Voluntary Sustainability Standards: how has our understanding changed

K.Komives, A.Arton, E.Baker, C.Longo, D.Newsom, A.Pfaff, C.Romero
Meridian Institute (

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In 2012, a committee of international experts from academia, business, and civil society published Toward Sustainability: The Roles and Limitations of Certification. In addition to describing the history, key features and actors in voluntary standard systems (VSS), the report summarized the state of knowledge regarding VSS use and their potential to achieve conservation and other goals. It also enumerated existing evidence about VSS impacts, finding few studies and weak study designs. Since then, considerable effort has been made to fill research gaps. In this report, we review new VSS studies in the agricultural, forestry, marine fisheries and aquaculture sectors to revisit the issue of the state of knowledge about their conservation impacts and, going forward, consider how best to advance VSS impacts research.


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Roads & SDGs, Tradeoffs and Synergies: learning from Brazil’s Amazon in distinguishing frontiers

A.Pfaff, J.Robalino, R.Walker, S.Perz, W.Laurance, C.Bohrer, S.Aldrich, E.Arima, M.Caldas, K.Kirby
Economics Vol. 12, 2018-11 March 05, 2018

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To reduce SDG tradeoffs in infrastructure provision, and to inform searches for SDG synergies, the authors show that roads’ impacts on Brazilian Amazon forests varied significantly across frontiers. Impacts varied predictably with prior development – prior roads and prior deforestation – and, further, in a pattern that suggests a potential synergy for roads between forests and urban growth. For multiple periods of roads investments, the authors estimate forest impacts for high, medium and low prior roads and deforestation. For each setting, census-tract observations are numerous. Results confirm predictions for this kind of frontier of a pattern not consistent with endogeneity, i.e., short-run forest impacts of new roads are: small for relatively high prior development; larger for medium prior development; and small for low prior development (for the latter setting, impacts in such isolated areas could rise over time, depending on interactions with conservation policies). These Amazonian results suggest ‘SDG strategic’ locations for infrastructure, an idea the authors note for other frontiers while highlighting major differences across frontiers and their SDG opportunities.


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