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Implementation and opportunity costs of reducing deforestation and forest degradation in Tanzania

An Erratum to this article was published on 31 May 2011

This article has been updated


The Cancún Agreements provide strong backing for a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism whereby developed countries pay developing ones for forest conservation1. REDD+ has potential to simultaneously deliver cost-effective climate change mitigation and human development2,3,4,5. However, most REDD+ analysis has used coarse-scale data, overlooked important opportunity costs to tropical forest users4,5 and failed to consider how to best invest funds to limit leakage, that is, merely displacing deforestation6. Here we examine these issues for Tanzania, a REDD+ country, by comparing district-scale carbon losses from deforestation with the opportunity costs of carbon conservation. Opportunity costs are estimated as rents from both agriculture and charcoal production (the most important proximate causes of regional forest conversion7,8,9). As an alternative we also calculate the implementation costs of alleviating the demand for forest conversion—thereby addressing the problem of leakage—by raising agricultural yields on existing cropland and increasing charcoal fuel-use efficiency. The implementation costs exceed the opportunity costs of carbon conservation (medians of US$6.50 versus US$3.90 per Mg CO2), so effective REDD+ policies may cost more than simpler estimates suggest. However, even if agricultural yields are doubled, implementation is possible at the competitive price of US$12 per Mg CO2.

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Figure 1: District-level results for agricultural rent, charcoal rent and carbon lost under forest conversion.
Figure 2: Opportunity cost of forest conservation.
Figure 3: Opportunity and implementation cost estimates for REDD+.

Change history

  • 31 May 2011

    In the abstract of the version of this Letter previously published, the third sentence from the end should have referred to '...alleviating the demand for forest conversion...'. This has now been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of this Letter.


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Funding was provided by The Leverhulme Trust (UK) under the ‘Valuing the Arc’ programme. B.F. was partially funded by a Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) fellowship at Princeton University. We thank L. Estes, K. Kulindwa, B. Mbilinyi, S. Mwakalila, S. Morse-Jones, R. Naidoo, N. Olwero, B. Phalan, T. Ricketts, P. Sanchez, B. Strassburg and D. Wilcove for helpful discussions and comments.

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B.F. and A.B. conceived the study. B.F., A.B., S.L.L., N.D.B. and R.K.T. designed the study. B.F., S.L.L., R.E.M., P.K.M. and S.W. collected data. B.F., A.B., S.L.L., R.D.S., R.E.M., P.K.M. and S.W. analysed the data. B.F., A.B. and S.L.L. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Brendan Fisher.

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Fisher, B., Lewis, S., Burgess, N. et al. Implementation and opportunity costs of reducing deforestation and forest degradation in Tanzania. Nature Clim Change 1, 161–164 (2011).

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