Governance and Forest Loss: A Cross-National Analysis

Jamie Sommer, Sociology

Approximately 55,600 trees, or 139 acres of forest, are cleared every minute. To put this into perspective, every ten minutes, an area of forest about the size of Stony Brook University’s campus is cleared. Most forest loss occurs in low- and middle-income nations, greatly impacting our natural environment. Forest loss exacerbates climate change, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, flooding, and desertification. In addition to environmental damage, forest loss leads to social problems including growth in urban slums, transmigration, malnutrition, spreading of infectious diseases, and violence, especially in rural areas.

A substantive body of literature finds that various economic, political, and social factors impact forest loss. However, there is a lacuna in the literature which neglects to consider how governance impacts forest loss cross-nationally among low- and middle-income nations. In my research, I examine how factors of governance impact forest loss. I argue that nations with strong governance have a greater capacity to create and enforce environmental regulations, have the potential to expend resources for environmental protection, and the ability to protect their land from excessive domestic and corporate extraction of natural resources.

Using ordinary least squares regression (OLS) for a sample of 65 low- and middle-income nations, I assess the impact of governance on the change in forest loss from 2001-2014. I utilized a grant from the Center for the Study of Inequality, Social Justice and Policy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook to collect the Political Risk Services (PRS) International Country Risk Guide (ICRG) data. This dataset specializes in measuring governance in a holistically.

The results suggest that governance is an important mechanism impacting forest loss. State bureaucratic structures, management, and oversight of resources, both economic and natural, are related to forest loss. Low governance reduces ability to manage, enforce, and monitor the destination of environmental protection funds. In result, resources may not be efficiently allocated, resulting in increased forest loss since areas with greatest need may not receive adequate funds and attention to protect the environment. Conversely, high levels of governance and accountability allows nations to implement policies to manage forestry resources in a sustainable way, such as demarcating protected land areas and establishing reforestation programs.

If governments and the international community want to reduce forest loss, they should improve governance. However, it is clear that there is inequality in state governance, whereby some nations have greater levels of governance than others, which has differential impacts on the natural environment. How can we globally improve governance, and reduce inequality in governance between nations to protect the natural environment? Though governance is internal to nations, it may be shaped by external factors such as unequal trade relationships, predatory investment and loan practices, and other types of external government intervention related to conflicts, political disputes, and economic interests. State governance may also be shaped by global governance factors including international agreements and treaties, alliances, and pressure to conform to global environmental norms and practices. Therefore, while nations can improve their governance by altering their policies and procedures to reduce corruption, enhance oversight, and strengthen bureaucratic structures, other nations and non-state actors should revaluate how their practices can weaken other states and impact their environment. My current research focuses on these ideas.

I am grateful for funding provided by the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, which has enabled me to analyze how state governance impacts environmental outcomes. Due to this research, I was an invited speaker at Global Governance Of Climate: Fit for Purpose in Greece: I will also submit a white paper on the importance of the interaction between state and global governance at reducing forest loss where I am currently a resident research fellow, the Center for United Nations Constitutional Research (CUNCR).

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