Understanding incentive-based conservation policies
Understanding incentive-based conservation policies, such as payments for environmental services, and how they contribute to environmental protection
CIFOR has been at the forefront of research on incentive-based conservation policies such as payments for environmental services (PES) – economic instruments designed to provide incentives to land users to supply an environmental (ecological) service that benefits society and the environment.
Sven Wunder, a former Principal Scientist at CIFOR, explains that a current challenge for PES is how to scale it up to have even greater societal impact. His current research is therefore focusing on how to make good design and implementation choices, so that these initiatives can become more effective and cost-efficient.
In conversation with Sven Wunder
What was the main focus of your work when you were at CIFOR?Over the years, I have dealt with various forest/natural resource management issues that have socioeconomic dimensions: incentive policies for forest conservation (such as payments for environmental services), deforestation, and forest-poverty linkages.
How have your research and activities paved the way for future forestry-related developments and research?The payments for environmental services (PES) field has exploded academically, with lots of interest and application. Objectively, the societal need for it is widely recognized, and there are lots of new things that can be done in terms of experimenting with what could work. For example, the REDD+ line of work that draws on conditionality (quid pro quo) is the same principle underlying PES – the idea that you should pay in a performance-based way. In REDD+, this is just done at a higher level between countries, rather than, for example, between upstream and downstream water users, as for PES.
If you could choose one piece of work that would be the highlight of the research you did at CIFOR, what would it be? Why is it a highlight?It would clearly be my work on PES, because this was at the beginning of the new millennium, when I joined CIFOR, and it was a new field and we were doing pioneering work. This work has been highly cited by scientists and practitioners alike. For the last five years, this research has also led to me being listed on Thomson-Reuters’/later Clarivate’s list of the 70 top-cited economists worldwide (in the category “Economics and Business”). See, for example, “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2016 (“The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2015”, “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2014” and Clarivate’s 2017 list).
What future challenges related to your research area do you foresee? How does your research address these challenges?A challenge for PES is how to scale it up to have even greater societal impact – without sacrificing a design that is carefully customized to the problem at hand. For instance, we found that a lot of the PES pilot schemes make too little use of the conditionality principle: they may monitor compliance, but often choose not to sanction, such as by withdrawing payments, in the case of non-compliance. My research on PES is focusing on how to make good design and implementation choices, so that these initiatives can become more effective and cost-efficient.
Why do you think that the work CIFOR does on forestry is key for the future of our planet and the people living on it?Over the years, CIFOR has been exceptionally good at a few things. CIFOR always took a transdisciplinary approach, which is often what you need to solve complex socio-environmental problems – and where the traditional, national forestry institutions have tended to fail. CIFOR managed to engage some of the very best researchers in the field as partners, and eventually convinced many of them to come and work for the institution as staff. As a young researcher, to me CIFOR was simply the best out there – so I visited it in Indonesia. In hindsight, I picked CIFOR, at least as much as CIFOR picked me. In addition, many of the people at CIFOR were extremely nice and interesting, and many have become life-long friends. Finally, CIFOR always understood how to place itself in the realm of applied science – close to the reality, but knowledgeable of the theory as well. Having core funds available for research allowed the institution to identify future key themes in advance, which helped to also set the agenda. Now, for all of these qualities, it is true that they need to continuously be reconfirmed: getting to the top is hard, but staying there is at least as challenging, especially as the world in and outside the institution undergoes many changes.