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The Impact of Rural Electric Access on Deforestation Rates

Andrew M. Tanner and Alison L. Johnston

World Development, 2017, vol. 94, issue C, 174-185

Abstract: Overpopulation and economic industrialization are two common explanations for deforestation. Political ecology, however, highlights that good governance and effective land management at the local level can offset the impact of population growth and development on environmental degradation. In this paper, we provide an innovative argument derived from political ecology to explain deforestation, but rather than pursing a “bottom up” approach to governance, we take a “top down” approach. We argue that the state can ease deforestation rates by weaning rural populations off of the consumption of biomass for their energy needs by expanding rural electrification access. Using a panel analysis of 158 countries for the years 1990, 2000, and 2010, we find that not only does rural electrification cause deforestation rates to decrease, but also that it is more robust in explaining deforestation than population growth or development. Our study provides two innovations to political ecology: it highlights that the state can help, rather than hinder, local populations with managing their local environments in a more sustainable way by providing them with (public goods-based) energy alternatives, and; it supplements political ecology’s qualitative focus on environmental degradation with a generalized quantitative analysis of state-based initiatives on deforestation. Our results suggest that current global initiatives addressing deforestation—specifically the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) agenda of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change—should not only assist local land managers, but also work with the state to ensure universal access to electricity.

Keywords: deforestation; political ecology; rural electrification; REDD (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.12.046

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