How effective are biodiversity conservation payments in Mexico?

In this new article, published in the leading international research journal PLOS One and led by UAB PhD candidate Sébastien Costedoat, we assess the additional forest cover protected by 13 rural communities located in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico, as a result of the economic incentives received through the country’s national program of payments for biodiversity conservation. We use spatially explicit data at the intra-community level to define a credible counterfactual of conservation outcomes. We use covariate-matching specifications associated with spatially explicit variables and difference-in-difference estimators to determine the treatment effect. We estimate that the additional conservation represents between 12 and 14.7 percent of forest area enrolled in the program in comparison to control areas. Despite this high degree of additionality, we also observe lack of compliance in some plots participating in the PES program. This lack of compliance casts doubt on the ability of payments alone to guarantee long-term additionality in context of high deforestation rates, even with an augmented program budget or extension of participation to communities not yet enrolled.

Valuing nature, paying for ecosystem services and realizing social justice

In the latest volume of the journal Ecological Economics, I contribute to ongoing debates about the role of economic valuation in market-based conservation. I respond to an earlier piece by Brett Sylvester Matulis, nuance some of his arguments and set what I believe should be the new agenda for critical scholarship of market-based conservation. I argue for more precision in the claims we make about the role of economic valuation and the impacts of payments for ecosystem services, distinguishing across market-based instruments and across types of outcomes, and for a more nuanced account of the ethical connotations of such instruments. I suggest that such analysis should entail understanding both unequal socio-economic relations and culturally bounded conceptions of justice. Overall, I advocate for the development of a more robust empirical basis to derive generalizations on the procedural, distributive and livelihood implications of market-based instruments for conservation.

“We are the city lungs”. Payments for ecosystem services in the outskirts of Mexico city.

In a recently published article in the journal Land Use Policy, we reflect on the impact of a public program of payments for forest conservation in the outskirts of Mexico city. Have been such payments effective in protecting forests? What are the main challenges in this regard? Have been payments a means to support local people’s social organisation and to enhance their financial and other material assets? How desirable and viable are this kind of direct payment programs in a context of rampant land speculation and increasing urbanisation? Is there a future for payments of this kind in other metropolis around the world? The article abstract can be read here (see Publications section for further details).

Social equity matters in payments for ecosystem services

Although conservation efforts have sometimes succeeded in meeting environmental goals at the expense of equity considerations, the changing context of conservation and a growing body of evidence increasingly suggest that equity considerations should be integrated into conservation planning and implementation. In an article recently published in the journal Bioscience, and led by my colleague Unai Pascual from the Basque Centre for Climate Change Research, we review why such a desirable approach is often at at odds with the prevailing focus on economic efficiency that characterizes many payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes. Therefore, and drawing from examples across the literature, we show in the article how the equity impacts of PES can create positive and negative feedbacks that influence ecological outcomes. We thus caution against equity-blind PES, which overlooks these relationships as a result of a primary and narrow focus on economic efficiency. We call for further analysis and better engagement between the social and ecological science communities to understand the relationships and trade-offs among efficiency, equity, and effectiveness. [See Publications page for article details]