Evolution of Land Conservation Policy

The paper looks at the development of conservation policy since the mid-20th Century. It reviews how land conservation policy developed in the UK, and the ethical and policy design issues which emerged as the focus of conservation expanded. It then considers how the lessons learned may be applied to address environmental conservation needs in developing society situations. The first steps in UK conservation policy entailed legislation to establish public rights over privately owned resources. Other legislation recognized the public interest in the environmental values of the rural environment. The next step was to offer payments to rural land owners and operators not to change use. This assumed that land owners had a right to determine the environmental standard on their land and created a problem of asymmetric information. More positive policies followed to generate additional public goods, raising issues of selection bias, and causing some erosion of property rights as expected standards of environmental management were raised. This led to an extensive literature on policy design to avoid these issues, which will be briefly reviewed. Voluntary conservation initiatives are increasingly being framed as Payments for Environmental Services (PES). PES is heralded as an efficient means to achieve conservation goals. This paper, illustrated with examples from developing areas, addresses advantages and limitations of PES in terms of land conservation policy and warns about limiting policy to utilizing strict PES frameworks due to the complexity of conservation goals, reallocation of property rights, trade-offs between efficiency and distributional issues, uncertainties surrounding additionality of PES and the valuation of conservation benefits and costs.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-22

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