Identifying the Causes of Tropical Deforestation: Meta-analysis to Test and Develop Economic Theory

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This chapter discusses methods for summarizing and distilling lessons from the empirical economics literature on tropical forestry, giving particular attention to the method of meta-analysis ("the study of studies") and to the topic of tropical deforestation. Meta-analysis can be used to take stock of the literature, test hypotheses about the effects of explanatory variables on a dependent variable, and predict the value of a dependent variable across space and time. We discuss previous reviews of the literature on deforestation and then illustrate how to test hypotheses with meta-analysis. Specifically, we examine the so-called "win-win" hypothesis that economic development is good for both people (resulting in higher incomes) and forests (resulting in lower rates of deforestation). Consistent with previous literature reviews, we find that the drivers of deforestation vary by region. However, we reject the win-win hypothesis in all regions: meta-analysis of the literature clearly shows that there are trade-offs between development and forest conservation. In Latin America, there is some evidence for the alternative hypothesis of an "environmental Kuznets curve" of deforestation. The meta-analysis also reveals possible publication biases, including different patterns of results in economics versus other publication outlets, which are important to keep in mind when drawing conclusions from the literature.

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