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Category: Land Use & Climate Mitigation

Can we increase the impacts from payments for ecosystem services? Impact rose over time in Costa Rica, yet spatial variation indicates more potential

Juan Robalino, Alexander Pfaff, Catalina Sandoval, G. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa
Forest Policy and Economics 132 (2021)

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As programs with payments for ecosystem services (PES) have become more numerous, raising the need for and also the opportunity for rigorous evidence on their contributions, we examine shifts within Costa Rica’s Pagos por Servicios Ambientales (PSA) program. The PSA was heralded from its initiation, despite demonstrations of low early impacts. We study shifts in impact over time across early periods and whether further adjustments could raise contributions. Looking over time, we find that PSA contracts signed for the 2000–2005 period had higher impacts than contracts for the program’s initial time period, 1997–1999 found in previous research. Looking over space, we find that PSA payments have higher impacts for lower slopes and lower market distances. Linking these results, the rise in impact for 2000–2005 occurred alongside a shift in the targeting of PSA, which was along ecological dimensions (limiting effects of owners offering unprofitable lands). Yet the spatial variations in impacts we document suggest that explicitly targeting impact offers the potential to further raise PES impacts in Costa Rica, as well as in other nations.

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Election cycles affect deforestation within Brazil’s Atlantic Forest

Patricia G.C. Ruggiero, Alexander Pfaff, Elizabeth Nicholas, Marcos Rosa, Jean Paul Metzger
Conservation Letters (2021)

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Policymakers’ incentives during election campaigns can lead to decisions that significantly affect deforestation. Yet this is rarely studied. For Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a highly biodiverse tropical forest, we link federal-and-state as well as municipal elections to annual deforestation between 1991 and 2014. Across 2253 municipalities, those with higher deforestation see a significant rise in deforestation during federal-and-state election years. Municipal election years raise deforestation for locations with lower deforestation, whereas all of these increases are accentuated when there is party alignment between different levels of government. This effect of election cycles has fallen over time, to date, yet that cannot be assumed to continue. Our results highlight the need to limit opportunistic behaviors that affect natural resources and the environment with implications for biodiversity, carbon storage, and other ecosystem services.


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What Drives the Erasure of Protected Areas? Evidence from across the Brazilian Amazon

Derya Keles, Philippe Delacote, Alexander Pfaff, Siyu Qin, Michael B. Mascia
Ecological Economics 176 (2020) 106733

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Protected areas (PAs) are a widely used strategy for conserving forests and ecosystem services. When PAs succeed in deterring economic activities that degrade forests, the impacts include more forest yet less economic gain. These economic opportunity costs of conservation lead actors with economic interests to resist new PAs, driving their sites away from profitable market centers and towards areas featuring lower opportunity costs. Further, after PAs are created, economic actors may want PA downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (collectively PADDD). We examine reductions in PAs’ spatial extent – downsizings (partial erasures) and degazettements (complete erasures) − that presumably reduce protection. Using data for the entire Brazilian Amazon from, our empirical analyses explore whether size reductions from 2006 to 2015 resulted from bargaining between development and conservation. We find that the risks of PA size reductions are raised by: lower travel costs (as implied by distances to roads and cities), which affect economic gains and enforcement; greater PA size, which affects enforcement; and more prior internal deforestation, which lowers the impacts of size reductions. These dynamics of protection offer insights on the potentially conflicting factors that lead to PA size reductions, with implications for policymaking to enhance PA effectiveness and permanence.


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The Effectiveness of Forest Conservation Policies and Programs

Jan Borner, Dario Schulz, Sven Wunder, Alexander Pfaff
Annual Review of Resource Economics 12:19.1-19.20 (2020)

The world’s forests provide valuable contributions to people but continue to be threatened by agricultural expansion and other land uses.Counterfactual-based methods are increasingly used to evaluate forest conservation initiatives. This review synthesizes recent studies quantifying the impacts of such policies and programs.Extending past reviews focused on instrument choice, design, and implementation, our theory of change explicitly acknowledges context. Screening over 60,000 abstracts yielded 136 comparable normalized effect sizes (Cohen’s d). Comparing across instrument categories, evaluation methods, and contexts suggests not only a lack of “silver bullets” in the conservation toolbox, but that effectiveness is also low on average. Yet context is critical. Many interventions in our sample were implemented in “bulletproof” contexts of low pressure on natural resources. This greatly limits their potential impacts and suggests the need to invest further not only in understanding but also in better aligning conservation with local and global development goals.


Evaluating REDD+ at Subnational Level: Amazon Fund impacts in Alta Floresta, Brazil

Juliano Correa, Elias Cisneros, Jan Borner, Alexander Pfaff, Marcelo Costa, Raoni Rajao
Forest Policy and Economics 116:102178

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The Amazon Fund is the world’s largest program to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), funded with over US $1b donated by Norway and Germany between 2008 and 2017 to reward Brazil for prior deforestation reductions. Olhos D’Água da Amazônia is cited as a leading project success − with over one thousand small-to-medium-sized crop and livestock producers in the municipality of Alta Floresta, Mato Grosso State receiving more from the Amazon Fund than all but two other municipalities. To secure property rights, aid environmental planning, and raise farmers’ productivity and output diversity, the project helped farmers register in Brazil’s environmental cadaster and receive property certificates. Furthermore, Olhos D’Água supported milk and honey production and paid farmers to conserve riverine forest sites. We estimate causal effects of Olhos D’Água, versus a counterfactual estimate of what would have happened without the project, using a synthetic-control method. We build from the pool of blacklisted municipalities weighted averages (synthetic controls) that best match pre-treatment outcomes for Alta Floresta. Project effects are estimated as post-treatment differences between Alta Floresta and the synthetic controls. We find that the project increased new CAR registrations, and INCRA certifications, and may have moderately increased honey and milk production. Alta Floresta’s annual forest losses remained historically low but we find no clear causal effect of the project on deforestation rates. Our results support that rigorous impact evaluation can motivate and guide project improvements.



Investing in local capacity to respond to a federal environmental mandate: forest & economic impacts of the Green Municipality Program in the Brazilian Amazon

Erin Sills, Alexander Pfaff, Luiza Andrade, Justin Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Dickson
World Development 129:104891

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Over the past decade, the Brazilian federal government has offered a negative collective incentive to reduce deforestation by ‘blacklisting’ the municipalities in the Amazon with the highest deforestation rates. As for any unfunded mandate, the responses to blacklisting depend on both local incentives and local capacities. We evaluate a state program — Programa Municípios Verdes (PMV) or the Green Municipality Program — to increase the capacity of municipal governments in the state of Pará to respond to this federal incentive. The PMV is voluntary, as municipal governments choose whether to participate. To control for differences due to self-selection into the program, we employ quasi-experimental methods: two-way, fixed-effects regressions in matched samples of municipalities; and the synthetic control method that compares outcomes in a participating municipality to outcomes in a weighted blend of control municipalities. Neither approach suggests that the PMV reduced deforestation beyond the effect of the blacklist. We hypothesize that municipalities joined the PMV to ameliorate the costs of complying with blacklist requirements, including the costs of exiting the blacklist. We show that the PMV increased total value added – with substantial heterogeneity – in participating blacklisted municipalities, and that these gains likely are not due to agricultural intensification. They may result from reductions in compliance risk and cost that make economic investments in a municipality more appealing. In the long run, this could make forest conservation more socially and politically sustainable.