Conserving Forests by Reforming Standards to "Produce and Protect"

Given rising food demands, protecting and restoring global forests requires a variety of efforts to avoid clearing more land. These include large, crop yield gains and increases in livestock efficiencies, moderation in demands for land-intensive foods, such as beef, and avoiding policies such as those for bioenergy that increase the demand for human uses of land. Without these efforts, protection of forests in one location will just result in clearing more forests in another. Yet, without governance to protect forests, boosting yields often contributes to local tropical forest loss by increasing agriculture’s local competitive advantage to meet global demand. Only linking yield gains with forest protection can ensure against these rebound effects. Overall, solutions therefore require strategies to “produce, protect, reduce and restore.” Produce more food on the same land, link these yield gains to forest protection, reduce demand for land-intensive human goods, and restore forests where enhancing food production is not viable. Increasing corporate and national climate attention to forest preservations provides opportunities to direct funds and purchasing power into these goals.

Unfortunately, existing greenhouse gas accounting standards, which guide national, corporate, and individual activity, often create perverse incentives. National reporting standards for greenhouse gas emissions do not factor in the efficient use of land and thereby can encourage outsourcing of food production and other land uses, increasing global deforestation. They also provide no reward for strategies to reduce consumption of land-intensive products if they are generated outside their country. Lifecycle and corporate responsibility standards can encourage companies just to shift from one existing farm to another rather than to “produce and protect.” 

This project will explore ways to reform these efforts in two basic ways. First, it will explore these accounting issues in a variety of publications with the assistance of a broad scientific panel, proposing reforms and finding ways of explaining the issues to important constituencies and the public. Another component works with the large U.S. pension fund, TIAA, which has large agricultural landholdings around the world. This work will explore the best ways for TIAA and by extension other pension funds to account for their greenhouse gas emissions in ways that support the efficient uses of land. The work will also develop “produce and protect strategies” for TIAA agricultural lands in Brazil. 

For more information, contact the principal investigator, Tim Searchinger, Senior Research Scholar at C-PREE ([email protected]).

This project is funded by a five-year grant from Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) under Norad - the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. 

Cooperation Partners

  • SUB0000627: Research Subaward Agreement between Princeton University and CIPAV (Cali, Colombia) - $33,125.00
  • SUB0000628: Research Subaward Agreement between Princeton University and Chalmers University of Technology (Gothenburg, Sweden) - cancelled
  • SUB0000629: Research Subaward Agreement between Princeton University and WRI Brasil (Sao Paulo, Brazil) - $52,397
  • SUB0000680: Research Subaward Agreement between Princeton University and Fundacion de Apoio a Pesquisa e ao Desenvolvimento (Sete Lagoas, Brazil) - $53,067