Effects of agricultural supply chain environmental governance

The effects of zero-deforestation commitments and other such non-state environmental governance initiatives on environmental and social outcomes remain largely untested. In addition, the spillover effects of such interventions are widely hypothesized but challenging to identify and analyze with empirical datasets. Below are examples of research projects that fall under this theme.

Evaluating the environmental and socio-economic outcomes of oil palm sustainability certification

Funding: NASA New (Early Career) Investigator Program in Earth Science

Collaborators: Robert Heilmayr, Holly Gibbs, Douglas Morton, National Wildlife Federation, Jane Hill & Sarah Scriven

Location: Indonesia and Malaysia

Description: This research aims to evaluate the environmental and socio-economic effects of sustainability certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) using spaceborne remote sensing coupled with field data collection. Since 2000, voluntary sustainability standards for tropical commodities, especially palm oil, have grown substantially. About 20% of total palm oil production is now certified by the RSPO. Oil palm plantation expansion is associated with environmental and social harm including greenhouse gas emissions, water quality degradation, and rural livelihood change. The RSPO standard outlines environmental, economic, and social guidelines that could generate substantial improvements over these current socio-environmental outcomes. Yet, the benefits of certification remain unclear. Counterfactual analyses are required to establish whether certification confers additionality beyond business as usual. Discerning the factors contributing to certification success will support future improvements to standard design and implementation. This project will assess how certification leads to improved outcomes, and leverage recently-available spaceborne datasets to improve basic understanding of oil palm yields.

Mapping High Carbon Stock Forests

Funding: Google

Collaborators: Gary Paoli, National Wildlife Federation & Robert Heilmayr

Description: Diverse companies in the agricultural sector have recently committed to eliminate tropical deforestation from their supply chains. The High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach supports these commitments by providing a set of transparent and science-based steps to discern biodiverse, carbon-rich forests from other areas. This project applies the HCS Approach over Sumatra and Borneo islands using Google Earth Engine. We are using field-based forest structure assessments to support classification of multispectral satellite data to major HCS land cover classes.