Are protected areas an effective instrument for protecting the Amazonian forest?

Published on January 17, 2019 Updated on February 15, 2019

on the January 17, 2019

Focus on Research

Are protected areas an effective instrument for protecting the Amazonian forest?

Protected areas are key instruments dedicated to the preservation of valuable natural resources such as tropical forests. Their effectiveness is sometimes questioned. First, the protection provided by the protected area may not be effective. Then protected areas can be primarily located in regions where the deforestation pressure is lower. Finally, protected areas can shift deforestation to unprotected areas. The results of the article show that some legal forms of protected areas (integral and indigenous areas) contribute to the preservation of primary forest in Brazil.

The Brazilian Amazon is one of the regions in the world where biodiversity is the richest. Multifunctional primary forests contribute to the well-being of the poorest households. In addition, the forest provides ecosystem services through its contribution to the water cycle or erosion prevention. Finally, primary forests play a key role in carbon storage: deforestation will fuel the climate crisis. Reducing deforestation is therefore a priority for the international community as well as for national and local authorities. Deforestation rates were historically relatively higher in Brazil than in other Latin American countries. However, a favorable trend has been observed in recent years. The slowdown in economic activity following the global financial crisis has certainly played an important role among other factors. The goal of the article is to focus on the impact of protected areas (with a doubling of the protected areas in the 2000s to reach 42% of the forest area in the Brazilian Amazon in 2009). Three types of protected areas have been defined in Brazil. Integral protected areas (IUCN categories I, II and III) give priority to the preservation of biodiversity. In these areas, no productive activity is allowed. Sustainable protected areas (IUCN categories IV, V and VI) make it possible to combine a level of environmental protection with a “sustainable” use of forest resources. Finally, indigenous areas are dedicated to the protection of the indigenous peoples.
Addressing the impact of protected areas on deforestation allows to participate to the debate on the comparative effectiveness for the environmental protection of "control and command" instruments such as those illustrated by protected areas and market-based instruments (payments for environmental services, REED+ mechanism, etc.).
The article focuses on the effects of geographical spillover effects of deforestation between Brazilian municipalities. The theoretical analysis models the forest as a local public good and as an input for the production of a private good. We model a realistic hypothesis in the Brazilian context. This is the infrastructure effect according to which deforestation in one area reduces the marginal cost of deforestation in geographically adjacent areas. Hence, deforestation decisions are strategic complements: the establishment of a protected area in one municipality reduces deforestation in neighboring municipalities.
The econometric analysis is carried out using a georeferenced database on land use in the Brazilian Legal Amazon over the period 2001-2009 at the municipal level. A model taking into account spatial interactions, time dimension and location bias of protected areas is estimated (dynamic spatial Durbin model). The main results are the following:

(i) Integral and indigenous protected areas significantly reduce deforestation. For instance, a 10% increase in the surface of integral protected areas reduces deforestation by 10.2%.
ii) Sustainable protected areas do not significantly reduce deforestation.
(iii) The hypothesis of deforestation leakage between municipalities is ruled out since the results show that integral protected areas and indigenous areas reduce deforestation directly and indirectly in neighboring municipalities.

Integral protected areas represent only 19% of total protected areas (compared to 32% for sustainable protected areas). Moreover, the primary function of indigenous areas is not to protect the forest. We can therefore deduce that there is still considerable leeway in strengthening avoided deforestation allowed by protected areas.
Much work remains to be done to understand the role of protected areas. In particular, studies will need to address the environment/development dilemma and assess the direct and indirect impact of protected areas on household incomes.

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