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POID Working Paper

National borders and the conservation of nature

Tropical forests play a central role in slowing climate change and their conservation has become an international priority. The fact that the majority of tropical deforestation is illegal, often involves complicit states and occurs in remote places makes evaluation of national conservation policies difficult. We propose using finely grained satellite data at national borders, where one political jurisdiction ends and another begins, to evaluate how well, in aggregate, these resources are being conserved. Doing this using 30x30 meter satellite data along Brazil's 12800 km border in the Amazon reveals dramatic changes in deforestation rates that match changes in Brazilian policies. Between 2001 and 2005, at the tail end of a pro-exploitation period, annual Brazilian deforestation was more than three times the rate observed across the border. From 2006 to 2014, as Brazil introduced policies to reduce deforestation, these differences at the border disappear. But they then re-appear starting in 2014, amid a period of deteriorating enforcement of environmental regulation. National borders therefore offer a means of evaluating the effectiveness of national conservation policies which are now objects of international interest.

Robin Burgess, Francisco Costa and Benjamin Olken

3 November 2023     Paper Number POIDWP084

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