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Protocol: effects of payment for environmental services and decentralized forest management on deforestation and poverty in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review

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Natural forest preservation in the tropics, and thus in developing countries, must be an element of any effective effort to manage climate change. Forests serve as natural carbon sinks, which help to mitigate the effect of other carbon emissions. However, forest cover is being reduced and it is estimated that deforestation is responsible for 10-17 per cent of global carbon emissions. Since 2007, governments have coordinated conservation efforts under the Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative, which has led to the implementation of various programs designed to reduce the amount of forested land converted to other purposes. Decentralized forest management (DFM) is one approach to forest management which has been widely implemented to reduce deforestation in developing countries. DFM programs relocate decision-making authority on forest use in the direction of forest communities, rather than central government actors.

While the primary goal of reducing deforestation is clear, the policy and academic literature debates the extent to which DFM programs in developing countries should incorporate goals of poverty reduction. Some argue that the targeting of poverty goals will undermine conservation effectiveness (e.g. because behavioral change among poorer households does not have as much potential to promote conservation as that of wealthier households or commercial entities). Others argue that targeting benefits toward the poor would contribute to conservation effectiveness by either promoting sustainable livelihoods or helping to legitimize conservation programming.

This systematic review studies the impact low- and middle-income countries of payment for environmental services (PES) and decentralized forest management (DFM) programs on deforestation and poverty in forest communities in low- and middle-income countries. Such programs find wide application around the world as part of government strategies to manage forest loss and climate change.