Corruption Drives Deforestation

Countries with corrupt executives and public officials have more deforestation, an environmental sociologist recently reported.

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Studies of the effects of corruption on forest loss have often been stymied by data conflating grand and petty corruption, but a newly constructed dataset separates the two to find that such activity on the part of executives and public officials has differing but noticeable impacts on forests in low- and middle-income nations.

Studying 87 nations from 2001 to 2014, Sommer used quality-of-government data to divide and compare countries on measures of grand corruption (committed by executives who misappropriate public funds or improperly benefit from logging) and petty corruption (defined as bribes and kick-backs given to low-level public sector workers). These two forms of corruption can lead to forest loss through separate causal mechanisms, although they can also be short-lived in their effects due to the difficulty of sustained corruption.

Multiple regression models indicate that the effects of corruption have a lower overall impact on forests than population and economic growth, but that these effects do lead to more forest loss than efforts to service the debt from International Monetary Fund loans, which is often held up as a major reason why developing nations have had to engage in heavy logging activities.

Source: Nature Plants summary of paper in Environ. Sociol. doi: 10.1080/23251042.2017.1348569

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