Cash for carbon could ease deforestation

Paying people to conserve their trees could be a highly cost-effective way to reduce deforestation and lower carbon emissions, a new study has revealed.

The study compared people who own forest in 60 villages in Uganda and were given cash rewards if they kept their forest intact and forest owners in another 61 villages who received no monetary incentives.

The aim was to evaluate how effective the Payments for Ecosystems (PES) scheme is at reducing deforestation. PES is a program in which people are given financial rewards for pro-environmental behaviour.

The study found that in the villages without the program, nine per cent of the tree cover that was in place at the start of the study was gone two years later. In the villages with the PES program, there was up to five per cent tree loss.

“It wasn’t the case that only forest owners who were planning to conserve anyway enrolled,” explained study leader Seema Jayachandran in a statement. “The payments changed people’s behavior and prompted them to conserve. And we didn’t find any evidence that they simply shifted their tree-cutting elsewhere. This truly was a net increase in forest cover in the study region.”

She added that the cost effectiveness of the program compared to other approaches to reduce carbon emissions, such as subsidies for electric vehicles, was eye-opening.

She said: “We found that the benefit of the delayed CO2 emissions was over twice as large as the program costs. For many other environmental policies, the value of the averted CO2 is in fact smaller than the program costs.”

The findings highlight the advantages of focusing on developing countries when working to reduce global carbon emissions.

Although the benefit of conserving a tree is the same regardless of location, paying individuals to conserve forests in developing countries makes it cheaper to reduce overall emissions.

With deforestation currently accounting for a substantial portion of human-induced carbon emissions, the researchers describe the payment program as “a cost-effective way to avert deforestation in developing countries – and hence a powerful tool to mitigate climate change.”

Photo credit: CIFOR/ CC BY-NC 2.0

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