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What happens when the PES money runs out? The equity implications and deforestation outcomes of an unexpected suspension in conservation payments in Ecuador’s Amazon

Authors: Nicolle Etchart*, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Kelly Jones, Colorado State University, Lisa Naughton-Treves, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Margaret B. Holland, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, José Luis Freire, Ecolex-Ecuador
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Latin America
Keywords: PES, conditionality, equity, permanence, persistence, conservation, deforestation, Ecuador, Socio Bosque
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) have become a prominent policy instrument for conserving tropical forests. PES are voluntary, direct, and contractual: an ES buyer pays an ES steward for adopting conservation practices for a fixed term. A defining feature of PES is its ‘quid pro quo’ conditionality, e.g. stewards are paid only if they deliver contracted conservation outcomes. Most studies on PES effectiveness focus on the steward’s compliance with contract conditions. By contrast, the buyer’s compliance has received scant attention despite the fact that PES programs across the globe have delayed payments, suspended re-enrollment, or shut down altogether. ‘Use-restricting’ PES, in particular, depend on the continued flow of funding to ensure the permanence of its conservation gains; however, institutional, political, and economic factors place PES funding at risk. What happens when the PES money unexpectedly runs out? Do ES stewards continue to conserve or revert to their former practices? And what are the equity implications of these sudden suspensions? In this paper, we use a mixed methods approach to study the deforestation outcomes and equity implications of an unexpected, two-year interruption in forest conservation payments to 63 landowners enrolled in Ecuador’s Socio Bosque program. Using quasi-experimental methods, we found that, on average, deforestation increased on enrolled properties located closer to deforestation pressures during the payment suspension period. Findings from 46 interviews and 29 focus groups conducted during and after the suspension exposed the role of unequal PES contract terms in reinforcing power inequalities between the state and rural ES stewards.

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