What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
The world’s tropical forests are living exemplars of the tragedy of the commons, where the needs of the world clash with those of individuals. The trees in those forests lock away so much carbon that keeping them alive is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing global carbon-dioxide emissions and forestalling the harm of climate change. But for the people who actually own those trees, cutting them down, selling them for timber, and using their land for agriculture is a great way of making money and feeding families.
Most deforestation occurs in low-income countries. So one way of resolving these misaligned interests is for rich countries, or international funders like the World Bank, to pay people in poor countries not to chop down trees, creating an incentive to protect their forests. This approach is known as “payment for ecosystem services,” or PES. Back in 1997, Costa Rica became the first country to try it at a national scale. Since then, Mexico, China, Bolivia, and other nations have followed suit.
On average, the team found that tree cover fell by 4.2 percent in the villages that were invited to take part in the PES scheme, and by 9.1 percent in the business-as-usual group. Best of all, the team found no evidence that the villagers were gaming the system. “You might expect that the people signing up in droves are the ones who were planning to conserve trees anyway,” says Jayachandran. But, in fact, the enrollees’ past behavior suggested that they would actually have cut down more trees than the typical landowner.