Conditional cash transfers to alleviate poverty also reduced deforestation in Indonesia

Solutions to poverty and ecosystem degradation are often framed as conflicting. We ask whether Indonesia’s national anti-poverty program, which transfers cash to hundreds of thousands of poor households,  reduced deforestation as a side benefit. Although the program has no direct link to conservation, we estimate that it reduced tree cover loss in villages by 30% (95% confidence interval, 10 to 50%). About half of the avoided losses were in primary forests, and reductions were larger when participation density was higher. The economic value of the avoided carbon emissions alone compares favorably to program implementation costs. The program’s environmental impact appears to be mediated through channels widely available in developing nations: consumption smoothing, whereby cash substitutes for deforestation as a form of insurance, and consumption substitution, whereby market-purchased goods substitute for deforestation-sourced goods. The results imply that anti-poverty programs targeted at the very poor can help achieve global environmental goals under certain conditions.