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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Fair payments for effective environmental conservation

Loft, Lasse; Gehrig, Stefan; Salk, Carl; Rommel, Jens


Global efforts for biodiversity protection and land use -based greenhouse gas mitigation call for increases in the effectiveness and efficiency of environmental conservation. Incentive -based pol- icy instruments are key tools for meeting these goals, yet their effectiveness might be undermined by such factors as social norms regarding whether payments are considered fair. We investigated the causal link between equity and conservation effort with a randomized real -effort experiment in forest conservation with 443 land users near a tropical forest national park in the Vietnam- ese Central Annamites, a global biodiversity hotspot. The experi- ment introduced unjustified payment inequality based on luck, in contradiction of local fairness norms that were measured through responses to vignettes. Payment inequality was perceived as less fair than payment equality. In agreement with our preregistered hypotheses, participants who were disadvantaged by unequal payments exerted significantly less conservation effort than other participants receiving the same payment under an equal distribu- tion. No effect was observed for participants advantaged by in- equality. Thus, equity effects on effort can have consequences for the effectiveness and efficiency of incentive -based conservation instruments. Furthermore, we show that women exerted substan- tially more conservation effort than men, and that increasing pay- ment size unexpectedly reduced effort. This emphasizes the need to consider social comparisons, local equity norms, and gender in environmental policies using monetary incentives to motivate behavioral change.


payments for ecosystem services; climate change; biodiversity; behavioral economics; environmental justice

Published in

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
2020, volume: 117, number: 25, pages: 14094-14101

Authors' information

Loft, Lasse
Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)
Gehrig, Stefan
No organisation
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Economics

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG5 Gender equality
SDG10 Reduce inequality within and among countries
SDG13 Climate action
SDG15 Life on land

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

Publication Identifiers


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