Evaluating the Impacts of Reduced Deforestation Programs on Carbon Storage and Human Welfare in Tropical ForestsEPA Grant Number: FP917140
Title: Evaluating the Impacts of Reduced Deforestation Programs on Carbon Storage and Human Welfare in Tropical Forests
Investigators: Lawlor, Kathleen Egan
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 25, 2010 through August 24, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Ecosystem Services: Terrestrial Systems Soil and Plant Ecology
Tropical forests provide ecosystem services to society globally, by storing huge quantities of carbon and regulating the climate, and locally, by providing clean water, flood control, food, fuel, and medicine for adjacent populations. Emerging programs for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries (REDD) aim to keep forests intact by valuing forests for the globally-enjoyed service of carbon storage, yet the realization and permanence of reductions in forest emissions may hinge on the provision of local benefits. This research project seeks to both (1) quantify the impact of REDD on rural populations’ welfare and (2) identify which characteristics of REDD interventions (e.g., extent of local participation) result in a more even distribution of welfare gains across affected populations (less inequality) and a more even distribution of carbon storage (less leakage) across landscapes.
Programs for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries (REDD) aim to keep forests intact by valuing forests for the global service of carbon storage, yet the permanence of emissions reductions may hinge on the provision of local benefits. This research seeks to quantify the impacts of REDD on rural populations’ welfare and identify the conditions that lead to more even distribution of welfare gains and carbon storage across affected populations and landscapes.
This research will combine quantitative impact evaluation techniques with qualitative methods to identify welfare impacts attributable to the REDD project and the conditions leading to these impacts. Assessing the impact of conservation interventions on welfare requires more than simple before-after comparisons or comparisons between households living near and far from the conservation area. Rather, assessing the impact due to the intervention requires comparing the change between pre- and post-intervention conditions with a counterfactual scenario (i.e., what would the change have been in the absence of the intervention?), which cannot be observed. Impact evaluation techniques overcome these challenges by using applied econometric techniques to construct a counterfactual scenario and control for confounding variables that might complicate identification of attribution and impact. This research intends to analyze household-level data collected at both control and intervention sites, both before and after project implementation. Assessment of well-being will consider cash income (from agriculture, carbon payments, etc.), the value of assets owned or used (land, non-timber forest products, and other ecosystem services), and other indicators of well-being, such as household incidence of illness and access to key services (health care, education, clean water). Carbon storage impacts will be assessed through analysis of project documents. Variation in REDD projects’ institutional conditions and implementation characteristics will be harnessed and combined with analysis of qualitative data to identify the causal mechanism(s) responsible for changes in the distribution of welfare and forest emissions across communities and landscapes.
Despite decades of efforts to reduce deforestation, we know very little about the specific causal mechanisms leading to improved outcomes for both forests and people in conservation. This is due to both a general lack of rigorous impact evaluation in the conservation field and a lack of data on changes in welfare at the household level. By using impact evaluation techniques to quantify the impact of REDD on forests and welfare, while also examining variations in institutional conditions and implementation characteristics of REDD projects, it is expected that this research will be able to identify both the distribution of welfare and carbon gains across affected populations and landscapes and the conditions that lead to less inequality and less leakage.
Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:
REDD programs have great potential to protect ecosystem services for both global and local populations, yet because REDD will be implemented in complex social-ecological systems where land conversion contributes to local livelihoods and property rights and governance systems are weak, risks of negative impacts on the rural poor may be high. Understanding the locally-borne costs and benefits of REDD through impact evaluation will be the first step towards improving outcomes for people and forests. By examining the impacts and the conditions that lead to these impacts, it is hoped that this research can produce lessons for improving the design of conservation interventions.