Trade-offs and synergies between carbon storage and livelihood benefits from forest commons
Forests provide multiple benefits at local to global scales. These include the global public good of carbon sequestration and local and national level contributions to livelihoods for more than half a billion users. Forest commons are a particularly important class of forests generating these multiple benefits. Institutional arrangements to govern forest commons are believed to substantially influence carbon storage and livelihood contributions, especially when they incorporate local knowledge and decentralized decision making. However, hypothesized relationships between institutional factors and multiple benefits have never been tested on data from multiple countries.
By using original data on 80 forest commons in 10 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, we show that larger forest size and greater rule-making autonomy at the local level are associated with high carbon storage and livelihood benefits; differences in ownership of forest commons are associated with trade-offs between livelihood benefits and carbon storage. We argue that local communities restrict their consumption of forest products when they own forest commons, thereby increasing carbon storage.
In showing rule-making autonomy and ownership as distinct and important institutional influences on forest outcomes, our results are directly relevant to international climate change mitigation initiatives such as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and avoided deforestation. Transfer of ownership over larger forest commons patches to local communities, coupled with payments for improved carbon storage can contribute to climate change mitigation without adversely affecting local livelihoods.