Research Article

Cash for carbon: A randomized trial of payments for ecosystem services to reduce deforestation

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Science  21 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6348, pp. 267-273
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0568

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  • RE Cash for Carbon: considering all the necessary rigorous evidence
    • Alexander Pfaff, economist, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
    • Other Contributors:
      • Rodrigo Arriagada, economist, Catholic University, Santiago, CHILE
      • Kathy Baylis, economist, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA
      • Jan Borner, economist, University of Bonn, Bonn, GERMANY
      • Paul Ferraro, economist, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA
      • Subhrendu Pattanayak, economist, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
      • Juan Robalino, economist, University of Costa Rica, San Jose, COSTA RICA
      • Erin Sills, economist, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
      • Sven Wunder, economist, CIFOR, Lima, PERU

    Jayachandran et al. (2017) find that paying farmers for conservation, over two years, reduced high deforestation by half in two Ugandan districts. They employed a nicely done randomized control trial, the ‘gold standard’ for impact evaluation. Yet we caution that many conservation payments programs will have very different results due to differences in context and in implementation. If policy makers allocate resources expecting such results, they will be disappointed and resources will be wasted.

    For two reasons, the results of this trial generally are unlikely to be predictive of payments outcomes. First, this trial was in a context of ultra-high deforestation from low-return activities. Second, it differs substantially from the designs of leading larger-scale programs in terms of spatial extent (noting that increasing spatial scale can increase spillover responses), spatial targeting, monitoring and enforcement, contract modalities and duration, and mechanisms for selecting participants. National-scale programs in contexts of lower deforestation, as in Costa Rica or Mexico, have been shown to yield lower forest gains (as has been summarized in Samii et al. 2014 and other reviews of rigorous quasi-experimental results).

    Thus, Jayachandran et al.’s trial shows that conservation payments can be highly effective, in certain conditions, but does not predict that generally conservation payment programs will be this effective. Its high internal validity does not i...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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