Environmental Politics and Policy

Conservation Payments and Perceptions of Equity: Experimental Evidence from Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania

Cook, N. J., T. Grillos, and K. P. Andersson. 2023. Current Research in Environmental Sustainability 5: 100212.

Abstract: While monetary incentives may be a promising tool for encouraging tropical forest conservation in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the equity implications of such incentives are drawing scrutiny. Furthermore, little is known about how program design shapes perceptions of fairness and equity among program participants, and it remains unclear whether devolving the decision power over the distribution of payments to local leaders helps or harms local perceptions of equity. We implemented a ‘lab-in-the-field’ experiment with 448 participants in rural villages in Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania, framed around two versions of a collective payments for ecosystem services (PES) program. Participants perceived the program as less equitable when the collective payment was distributed according to the discretion of a locally chosen leader, compared to when the payment was distributed perfectly equally by design. The negative effect is only seen among participants who were given a low share of the payment, which suggests that it is not the involvement of a leader per se that leads to lower perceptions of equity, but the inegalitarian distribution of the payment that sometimes occurs when a leader has the discretion to choose how the payment is distributed. The results highlight the importance of designing conservation incentive programs that give opportunities for local involvement while still encouraging equitable local decisions.

Promoting Women’s Leadership Under Environmental Decentralization: The Roles of Domestic Policy, Foreign Aid, and Population Change

Cook, N. J., M. E. Benedum, G. Gorti, and S. Thapa. 2023. Environmental Science & Policy 139: 240-249.

Abstract: In recent decades, countries across Asia, Latin America, and Africa have adopted environmental decentralization reforms to encourage the community-based management of water, forests, fisheries, and other natural resources. While such reforms are meant to empower rural people to participate in environmental governance, experiences from recent decades suggest that these reforms often suffer from gendered inequalities in participation and leadership. We use the case of a forestry-sector decentralization reform in Nepal to test the importance of domestic policy, foreign aid, and population change for promoting women’s leadership under environmental decentralization. Using data on local natural resource governance committees formed in villages across the country under the reform, we find that a non-binding government guideline encouraging committees to prioritize women’s leadership resulted in an estimated increase of 7.5 percentage points in the number of leadership seats held by women on these committees. We also show that locally-targeted, sector-specific foreign aid projects appear to have a strong impact, with rates of women’s leadership that are estimated to be 24 percentage points higher in committees formed in areas with projects, compared to rates in comparable committees formed in areas without such projects at the time of formation. Finally, we instrument for international male out-migration in rural Nepal, and find no apparent effect of international male out-migration on rates of women’s leadership in local natural resource governance committees. The results highlight the importance of domestic policy, even without stringent enforcement, and targeted foreign aid projects for promoting women’s leadership under environmental decentralization.

Can Restoration of the Commons Reduce Rural Vulnerability? A Quasi-Experimental Comparison of COVID-19 Livelihood-based Coping Strategies among Rural Households in Three Indian States

Hughes, K. A., P. Priyadarshini, H. Sharma, S. Lissah, T. Chorran, R. Meinzen-Dick, A. Dogra, N. J. Cook, and K. P. Andersson. 2022. International Journal of the Commons 16(1): 189-208.

Abstract: India has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the context of a larger quasi-experimental impact assessment, we assess the pandemic’s effects on household coping behavior in 80 villages spread across four districts and three states (n = 772). Half of these villages were targeted by a largescale common land restoration program spearheaded by an NGO, the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES). The other half are yet to be targeted but are statistically similar vis-à-vis FES’s village targeting criteria. Analyzing the results of a phone survey administered eight to ten months into the pandemic and its associated lockdowns, we find that the livelihood activities of households in both sets of villages were adversely impacted by COVID-19. Consequently, most households had to resort to various negative coping behaviors, e.g., distressed asset sales and reduced farm input expenditure. From the same mobile survey data, we construct a Livelihoods Coping Strategies Index (LCSI) and find that households in villages targeted by FES’s common land restoration initiative score 11.3% lower on this index on average, equating to a 4.5 percentage point difference. While modest, this statistically significant effect estimate (p < 0.05) is consistent across the four districts and robust to alterative model and outcome specifications. We find no empirical support that our observed effect was due to improved access to common pool resources or government social programs. Instead, we speculate that this effect may be driven by institutional factors, rather than economic, a proposition we will test in future work.

Gender Quotas Increase the Equality and Effectiveness of Climate Interventions

Cook, N. J., T. Grillos, and K. P. Andersson. 2019. Nature Climate Change 9(4): 330-334.

Abstract: Interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions strive to promote gender balance so that men and women have equal rights to participate in, and benefit from, decision making associated with such interventions. The conventional way to achieve gender balance in interventions is to introduce gender quotas. While such quotas are often justified on the grounds of fairness and equal rights, we propose that gender quotas can also help climate policy interventions become more effective. To test this idea, we use a randomized lab-in-the-field experiment in which local forest users in 28 villages in Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania made decisions about extraction and conservation in a commonly held forest. We randomly assigned a gender quota to half of the participating groups, requiring that at least 50% of group members were women. Groups with the gender quota conserved more forest resources as a response to a Payments for Ecosystem Services intervention and shared this payment more equally. Our analysis further shows that the inequality-reducing effect of the quota was due to the overall gender composition of the group, not the promotion of women to leadership positions. One of the policy implications of this result is that interventions would benefit from introducing gender quotas that go beyond a minimalist approach – which merely seeks to improve gender balance – to ensure that at least half of the members of decision-making groups are women. 

Experimental Evidence on Payments for Forest Commons Conservation

Andersson, K. P., N. J. Cook, T. Grillos … and E. Mwangi. 2018.  Nature Sustainability 1(3): 128-135.  

Abstract: Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) represent a popular strategy for environmental protection, and tropical forest conservation in particular. Little is known, however, about how tropical forest users respond to PES interventions, or how the characteristics of local users might influence the effectiveness of PES incentives. Many argue that even if PES increases conservation in the short-run, it may adversely affect other motivations for environmental behavior, potential damaging conservation efforts in the longer-run, once payments are removed. We propose that conditional payments can help forest users to conserve their shared forest resources, even after payments end, especially when users trust each other. Using a framed field experiment with 1,200 tropical forest users in five countries, we test these ideas and show that (1) during the PES intervention, conditional payments increased conservation behavior; (2) even after payments stopped, users continued to conserve more than they did before the PES intervention, and (3) trust amplified the lasting conservation effects of the PES interventions. Our findings suggest that policy actors can increase PES program effectiveness by designing interventions that facilitate and promote interpersonal communication, and by prioritizing implementation in contexts where forest users enjoy high levels of trust.

Local Politics of Forest Governance: Why NGO Support Can Undermine Local Government Responsiveness

Cook, N. J., G. D. Wright, and K. P. Andersson. 2017. World Development 92: 203-214.

Abstract: Concerned with the challenges of sustainable development, policy makers and scholars often urge nongovernmental organizations to increase their efforts to support governance of natural resources in developing countries. How does funding from external NGOs influence the responsiveness of local government policy to the sector-specific needs and policy preferences of local citizens? Using a unique longitudinal dataset from surveys of local governance actors in 200 municipalities in Bolivia and Guatemala, we explore these questions in the context of local natural resource policy. We find preliminary support for the hypothesis that external NGOs gain disproportionate influence over local policy processes in forestry by donating to local governments, and that this influence “crowds out” the influence of local grassroots actors, leading to less responsive local governance as rated by local citizens. However, political pressure on local government officials from organized local groups in the forestry sector counteracts this negative effect. These findings call into question the idea that financial support from outside NGOs to local governance actors will always produce more responsive policy outcomes, especially where local citizen groups do not actively communicate their demands to local politicians. More generally, our findings underscore the importance of local political contexts in moderating the effects of NGO interventions.

Quantitative Research Methodology

A Replication of a Quasi-Experimental Approach to Estimating Middle School Structural Transition Effects on Student Learning Trajectories

Atteberry. A., R. Wedow, N. J. Cook, and A. McEachin. 2022. Educational Policy.

Abstract: Using a dataset that includes over 17  million students from across all 50 states, we estimate the causal impact of making structural transitions into middle school (in grades 4, 5, 6, or 7) on student math and reading achievement trajectories. This dataset provides an ideal opportunity to engage in the valuable scientific practice of conducting replication studies. Prior research on the impacts of middle school transitions is of high quality and rests on a strong causal warrant, but the study settings vary greatly and use data from a prior decade. We conduct a replication (i.e., using the same methods on different data) using larger, broader, and more recent data. We extend prior analyses in ways that may further strengthen the causal warrant. Finally, we explore heterogeneity of effects across subgroups and states, which may help reconcile differences in the magnitude of estimated effects across studies.

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