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News Article

Do market based approaches create protected areas effective at mitigating climate change

Review looks at the pros and cons of using tools such as REDD+ in protecting forests

Protected areas have been identified as highly effective at reducing deforestation and forest degradation, which in turn helps to mitigate climate change through carbon storage and sequestration, however their long term economic viability has always proved challenging. Greenhouse gas emissions correlate with economic growth, therefore it is only logical that climate change mitigation has developed tools integrated into economic markets. Currently, the main policies focussed on reducing tropical deforestation are: reducing demand for agriculture & forestry products and the subsidies that support them, paying for ecosystem services, and creating protected areas. A literature review published this year looked at the effectiveness of market based instruments, which utilise payments for ecosystem services, in creating protected areas capable of mitigating climate change.

Tropical and subtropical forests represent the biggest portion of global carbon storage and sequestration by forests but are also the most threatened. In these regions deforestation is largely driven by economic incentives; global demand makes it more profitable to cut down a forest than preserve it, despite the benefits it provides. In a bid to make visible these benefits, new market instruments have emerged which calculate a monetary value for ecosystem services, e.g. those provided by an un-harvested forest. These include provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural services, ranging from water filtration to ecotourism. These benefits can be felt locally and globally, however, the responsibility to preserve them often falls to local owners and governments, despite the drive often originating from demand further abroad.

Market instruments seek to solve this by allowing external actors to pay to preserve sections of forest, providing economic compensation to the owners for what they would have gained through exploiting their land. REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation) is an example of such a scheme highlighted by the review. It acknowledges the fact that many globally important forests are located in developing countries, placing the onus of greenhouse gas reduction on communities whose activities are largely being driven by developed countries’ market pressures and are often not in a position where they are able to afford not to utilise their natural resources.

Protected areas funded in this way are thought by some to have finally struck the balance between economic viability and large-scale conservation; they are able to act as global carbon sinks and therefore reduce climate change whilst the responsibility is also being shared globally. However, critics have noted that it is this same capitalist view of nature that has largely led to the destruction of many forests in the first place and by commodifying our forests it creates the social precedent for ecosystem services requiring economic validation in order to be protected.

In summary the authors suggest that protected areas are indeed effective in mitigating climate change however they are not the golden solution they are sometimes heralded to be. The authors draw attention to the fact that there has been negative fallout from these schemes including leakage, whereby deforestation which would have occurred within the protected areas simply occurs elsewhere. However, this is a common side effect of creating any protected area as a lack of resources means protected areas are often not as water tight in practice as on paper. A large portion of emissions related to deforestation also comes from forest degradation at the borders of protected areas. And lastly, in areas where schemes have not taken off successfully it has also often been noted that it is the local community which suffers.

Read the full paper here:

Matheus, F.S., 2018. The role of forests and protected areas in climate change mitigation: a review and critique of the ecosystem services and REDD+ approaches. DESENVOLVIMENTO E MEIO AMBIENTE46, pp.23-36. DOI:

To find over 2,500 similar papers use the search string below in the Forest Science Database:

("greenhouse gases" OR "carbon sequestration" OR "carbon sinks") AND (“markets" OR "ecosystem services” OR "carbon markets" OR “carbon trading” OR “REDD” OR “REDD+”)