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.
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.