To leak or not to leak?: Land-Use Displacement and Carbon Leakage from Forest Conservation

To leak or not to leak?: Land-Use Displacement and Carbon Leakage from Forest Conservation

Focali researcher Sabine Henders successfully defended her PhD thesis on deforestation and land use displacement at Linköping University the 27th of March.

The Focali researchers Madelene Ostwald and Martin Persson have been Henders PhD supervisors. Opponent at the seminar was Arild Angelsen (Norwegian University of Life Sciences and CIFOR). Read Sabine Henders own reflections about her thesis work in the Focali blog: “How much forest did you have for breakfast today?” published a few days before her thesis defense.   
This thesis investigates the question how emissions from land-use displacement can be assessed andaccounted for, using the example of carbon-leakage accounting in the planned UNFCCC mechanism on‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (REDD). REDD serves here as example ofan international forest conservation policy that might be effective locally but could lead to displacementof deforestation to other countries. The first part of the thesis reviews existing accounting methods forland‐use displacement from different research fields and assesses their usefulness to quantify carbonleakage from REDD. Results show that it is very difficult to assess policy-induced (or strong) carbon leakagedue to the requirement to demonstrate causal links between the policy in question and the observedland-use changes, especially at international scale. Other accounting methods focus on demand-driven(or weak) carbon leakage, by establishing a link between international trade flows and environmentalimpacts arising in the production of traded commodities, such as land use or land-use changes. Methodsto quantify such distant linkages, or teleconnections, between production and consumption locationscommonly combine land-use accounting with trade-flow assessments to link local land-use changes withglobal consumption. A methodological challenge is currently the quantification of emissions from landusechange arising from trade teleconnections. Responding to this shortcoming, in the second part of thethesis a new method is developed to assess these teleconnections. Coupled with trade-flow analysis, the‘Land-Use Change Carbon Footprint’ (LUC-CFP) allows quantifying the extent to which land-use changesand associated emissions in a given country are due to the production of export goods, and thus theinternational demand for - and consumption of - forest-risk commodities. The understanding of suchdistant deforestation drivers can be useful in several contexts. Examples are the design of conservationpolicies like REDD, which risk being less effective as globalized deforestation drivers pose a high risk forinternational leakage, or the planning of demand-side measures that could complement supply-sideaction in decreasing global deforestation levels. Demand-side measures, such as zero-deforestationembargos, regulations or certification schemes, could eventually contribute to decrease the risk forinternational land-use displacement by addressing global consumption levels and commodity demand asone of the underlying driving forces of land-use change and deforestation. 

The PhD thesis consists of five articles: 

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