Does Certification Change the Trajectory of Tree Cover in Working Forests in the Tropics? An Application of the Synthetic Control Method of Impact Evaluation

Working Paper


As one of the oldest systems for certifying sustainable production practices, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) can offer important lessons about this approach to conservation. In particular, the nearly 25 year history of FSC makes it possible to evaluate how the impacts of certification evolve over time. We estimate causal effects on deforestation from the year of certification to 2012 in ten certified tropical forest management units (FMUs) in Brazil, Gabon, and Indonesia. In the process, we demonstrate the use of open-access pan-tropical datasets and the synthetic control method (SCM) to evaluate impacts on land use and land cover change. Across the ten FMUs, our point estimates suggest that certification reduces deforestation in most years, but placebo tests show that the estimated effects are generally not significantly different from zero. In the three FMUs for which SCM is most plausible (because the synthetic controls are good matches for the certified FMUs in the pre-certification period), we find that certification reduces deforestation in the year immediately after certification and in the most recent year in our dataset (2012), with statistically significant effects on the FMUs in Brazil and Indonesia. However, looking across all years and FMUs, results are more variable. One possible reason is that our measure of “deforestation” captures a range of disturbances that result in tree cover loss. In Brazil, we test a spatial filtering method for separating small patches that may be related to logging from large patches that more likely represent conversion to agriculture. We find that FSC certification of a FMU reduces small-scale loss of tree cover in the FMU in all years since certification, which is consistent with adoption of the reduced impact logging practices required by FSC.

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