Conservation impact evaluation using remotely sensed data (w/ Robert Heilmayr) [Link]
The application of quasiexperimental impact evaluation to remotely sensed measures of deforestation has yielded important evidence detailing the effectiveness of conservation policies. However, researchers have paid insufficient attention to the binary and irreversible structure of most deforestation datasets. Using analytical proofs and simulations, we demonstrate that many commonly employed panel econometric approaches are biased when applied to binary and irreversible outcomes. The significance, magnitude and even direction of estimated effects from many studies are likely incorrect, threatening to undermine the evidence base that underpins conservation policy adoption and design. To address these concerns, we provide guidance and new strategies for the design of panel econometric models that yield less biased and more efficient estimates of the impacts of forest conservation policies.
Environmental impacts of payments for reforestation enhanced when targeted to economically disadvantaged groups (w/ Robert Heilmayr)
To simultaneously address climate change, biodiversity loss, and rural poverty, policymakers throughout the world are paying landowners to plant forests. However, relatively little evidence exists documenting the impacts these payments have had, and how they can be structured to achieve multiple objectives. Here, we quantify the impacts of a reforestation subsidy included in Chile’s Native Forest Law. Landowners paid for reforestation expanded native forests on their properties, yielding an estimated 96 thousand tonnes of additional carbon sequestration at a cost of $36.78 per tonne CO2. The program also prioritized equitable economic development, targeting 47.5% of funding towards smallholders and individuals from marginalized groups. Smallholders located in high-poverty regions contributed the greatest increases in forest cover per enrolled hectare. As a result, policymakers were able to effectively target transfers towards economically disadvantaged groups, while simultaneously improving the environmental effectiveness of the program.
Unequally distributed education impacts of ecosystem degradation: evidence from an invasive species
Ecosystem degradation can have substantial social and economic costs, which may vary across groups in society. In this paper, we leverage variation from the introduction of the emerald ash borer beetle to explore how invasive species-induced declines in environmental quality impact education outcomes in a metropolitan setting. Exploiting the staggered and idiosyncratic spread of the ash borer to the Chicago Metropolitan Region, we show that infestation led to declines in tree cover and subsequently, education outcomes. Our findings indicate that ash borer infestation reduced canopy cover in affected areas by 1.42% on average, stemming from both increased tree cover loss and declines in tree cover gain. Further, the ash borer reduced standardized test performance at exposed schools. Infestation exposure led to an average of 1.86% fewer students that met or exceeded the state’s testing benchmark at the typical school. While exposure to ash borer infestation was lower around low-income schools, education impacts were concentrated almost entirely among low-income students. This work adds to our understanding of the environmental drivers of education outcomes and the unequally distributed impacts of human-induced environmental change.