Development-Driven Recovery of Tropical Forests: The Tropical Forest Transition with Implications for REDD+
Sean P. Sloan
School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Following decades of deforestation, forest regeneration is now prominent in certain tropical counties. Theory on such 'forest transitions' broadly describes urbanization, agricultural modernization, economic growth and globalization as underling trends. Conceivably, a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme of a post-2012 global climate change agreement, which would protect and expand tropical forest-carbon sinks to mitigate climate change, could promote such underlying trends to meet its goals while encouraging economic growth. Yet tropical forest transitions are poorly observed, and their underlying trends unclear, due to poor census data and modelling. To determine the nature of a tropical forest transition, I derive canonical correlations of (a) socio-agrarian transformation observed via a '100% sample' of respondent-level census records, and (b) forest-cover change observed via satellite imagery, for 82% of Panamanian counties over 1980-1990-2000-2008. The Panamanian forest transition centred on a multi-decadal, staged shift in employment from agricultural activity to off-farm activity complemented by agriculture to a specialization in the services sector. Agricultural modernization was coincident with this shift, but of secondary importance. Urbanization entailed well-connected and relatively small urban centres in otherwise rural landscapes. Regeneration and socio-economic development converged most markedly along the highway, between urban centres, where rural livelihoods are least marginal, rural population densities greatest, and deforestation and agricultural settlement most well established. These trends describe a long-term trend whereby forests return in a limited form as urban organization and affluence replaces rural production. Strategic REDD+ investment to accelerate tropical regeneration in counties undergoing nascent forest transitions is promising and in keeping with REDD+ design. Individual countries may guide such investment using powerful yet unexploited census datasets already in their possession and comparable to that used in this study.


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Keywords: Microdata; Tropical forests; Forest transition; Integrated

Biography: Dr. Sloan studies the interface of social and environmental change in the tropics. He is particularly interested in the long-term trends in social development and tropical forest recovery, and their implications for global schemes for climate-change mitigation. Dr. Sloan's research is currently informing the implementation of 'REDD+' in Panama, i.e., an element of a post-2012 global climate treaty whereby tropical countries would receive carbon credits for implementing social and political changes to reduce deforestation.