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Scale and context dependency of deforestation drivers: Insights from spatial econometrics in the tropics

Rubén Ferrer Velasco, Margret Köthke, Melvin Lippe and Sven Günter

PLOS ONE, 2020, vol. 15, issue 1, 1-32

Abstract: A better understanding of deforestation drivers across countries and spatial scales is a precondition for designing efficient international policies and coherent land use planning strategies such as REDD+. However, it is so far unclear if the well-studied drivers of tropical deforestation behave similarly across nested subnational jurisdictions, which is crucial for efficient policy implementation. We selected three countries in Africa, America and Asia, which present very different tropical contexts. Making use of spatial econometrics and a multi-level approach, we conducted a set of regressions comprising 3,035 administrative units from the three countries at micro-level, plus 361 and 49 at meso- and macro-level, respectively. We included forest cover as dependent variable and seven physio-geographic and socioeconomic indicators of well-known drivers of deforestation as explanatory variables. With this, we could provide a first set of highly significant econometric models of pantropical deforestation that consider subnational units. We identified recurrent drivers across countries and scales, namely population pressure and the natural condition of land suitability for crop production. The impacts of demography on forest cover were strikingly strong across contexts, suggesting clear limitations of sectoral policy. Our findings also revealed scale and context dependencies, such as an increased heterogeneity at local scopes, with a higher and more diverse number of significant determinants of forest cover. Additionally, we detected stronger spatial interactions at smaller levels, providing empirical evidence that certain deforestation forces occur independently of the existing de jure governance boundaries. We demonstrated that neglecting spatial dependencies in this type of studies can lead to several misinterpretations. We therefore advocate, that the design and enforcement of policy instruments—such as REDD+—should start from common international entry points that ensure for coherent agricultural and demographic policies. In order to achieve a long-term impact on the ground, these policies need to have enough flexibility to be modified and adapted to specific national, regional or local conditions.

Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226830

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