P4GES: Can Paying for Global Ecosystem Services reduce poverty?
Our central research question was: Can capturing global benefits from ecosystems (specifically carbon sequestration/storage and biodiversity) reduce poverty in low income countries, given bio-physical, economic and political realities?
We focused on a single ecosystem (tropical forests) in a single country (Madagascar) to achieve the depth required for a complete analysis. We took a multi-dimensional approach to poverty: acknowledging that poverty is about more than a lack of material wealth. We selected tropical forests as they are globally important for climate regulation and biodiversity, support millions of livelihoods, and international payment mechanisms are increasingly important drivers of land use change. Payment schemes which influence land use have the potential to impact the poverty status of local people both positively (e.g. through hydrological benefits) and negatively (e.g. through limiting agricultural expansion). While the initial focus for the Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme (REDD) was on forest conservation, rewards for enhancing carbon storage through forest restoration, and afforestation/reforestation are now increasingly being debated. The type of approach incentivized, and the institutional structures through which payments are channelled, will influence the impact on the poor.
Our aim was to investigate the relative impacts on poverty of different potential structures of international payment schemes. Our overarching (and intermediate) objectives were:
1) To understand the supply and distribution among stakeholders of ecosystem services flows from land use changes that would be incentivized under different types of international incentive scheme.
2) To understand the impacts of international payments on poverty through land use change (LUC) and distribution of payments received
3) To synthesise the results to develop recommendations for incentive mechanisms for effective poverty alleviation
4) To deliver a project which takes full advantage of synergies between social and natural science research, closely linked to stakeholder needs