Assessing the effectiveness of zero-deforestation commitments - PhDData

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Assessing the effectiveness of zero-deforestation commitments

The thesis was published by Leijten, Floris Casper, in October 2022, VU University Amsterdam.


Forests are indispensable assets for mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity and reducing poverty. While this has been widely recognized, vast swathes of forests are cleared each year, predominantly to make space for agricultural land. Since the 1980s, agricultural expansion into forest areas has been increasingly linked to international supply chains, especially of agricultural commodities such as beef, palm oil, soy, and timber. In response to the ongoing rates of forest loss, a large number of companies involved in the production, processing or distribution of deforestation-risk commodities publicly pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains in the early 2010s. Although these so-called Zero-Deforestation Commitments (ZDCs) have received ample scholarly attention, there are still large uncertainties as to how effective they have been up until now and how effective they could be if their uptake was increased. The overarching objective of this thesis is therefore to investigate what insights can be gained from applying different approaches to assess the effectiveness of ZDCs and the degree of complementarity between these different approaches. In doing so, special attention will be paid to three distinct methodological approaches that hold great promise for advancing assessments of ZDC effectiveness: geospatial analysis, quasi-experimental designs for causal inference, and simulation modelling. Chapter 2 takes stock of the different definitions and criteria articulated in ZDCs and maps the potential coverage of ZDCs through geospatial analysis. In the absence of a clear methodology for delineating forests protected by ZDCs, Chapter 2 tries to fill this gap by putting forward a methodology for doing this at the global scale. Overall, the chapter demonstrates the importance of geospatial analysis in any type of empirical research on ZDCs. Chapter 3 builds on Chapter 2 by zeroing in on the local spillover effects (positive or negative) that may have occurred in the wake of a specific anti-deforestation policy: the Indonesian forest moratorium, enacted in 2011. Capitalizing on recent methodological developments in quasi-experimental research, the chapter provides a first-of-its-kind analysis and finds strong evidence that the enactment of the moratorium caused an uptick in deforestation near the official moratorium boundaries. Chapter 4 takes a deep dive into the role that sourcing patterns of individual traders in Brazil’s soy supply chain may play in the adoption and implementation of ZDCs. The results show that although stickier traders are more likely to adopt ZDCs, they also appear to have less effective ZDCs than other traders (as indicated by the level of soy and territorial deforestation in their sourcing regions). Chapter 5 builds on the previous chapters by providing an ex-ante hypothetical modelling experiment on how the worldwide implementation ZDCs could potentially affect the expansion of oil palm and other crops up until 2030, thereby accounting for potential spillover effects. The results suggest that under a scenario where ZDCs are strictly enforced across industries and regions, they are likely to bring about significant land sparing effects and reduce deforestation rates by a significant degree, even in areas that fall beyond the scope of ZDCs. Taken together, the chapters show that none of the methodological approaches applied in the thesis are by themselves sufficiently flexible to assess all aspects of ZDCs effectiveness. However, when combined, they constitute a rigorous portfolio of approaches that enables researchers to assess both the actual and potential effectiveness of ZDCs under a wide range of conditions. It is hoped that this will help policy makers, companies, and civil society to make more informed decisions as to how targets regarding deforestation and other societal targets can be reconciled, thereby paving the way towards a more sustainable future.

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