Global Environmental Change 11 (2001) 193}202
Deforestation, distribution and development
Gary Koop??*, Lise Tole?
?Department of Economics, Adam Smith Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
?Centre for Development Studies, Adam Smith Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
Received 28 August 1998
This paper investigates the role played by distributional factors in mediating the e!ects of growth and development on forest
depletion in tropical developing countries. A key "nding of the paper is that the distributional pro"le of a country signi"cantly
determines whether economic development will have either a positive or a negative e!ect on the rate of forest loss. In countries where
levels of inequality are high, development will tend to exacerbate deforestation rates while in countries where distributional pro"les
are more egalitarian, the negative e!ects of growth and development on forest cover will be ameliorated. ? 2001 Elsevier Science
Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Deforestation; Poverty; Inequality; Development strategies; Economic growth; Environmental Kuznets curve
The promotion of economic growth has formed the
centerpiece of development planning and policymaking
in the post-war period (IFAD, 1993; World Bank, 1990).
In recent years, economists have complemented this fo-
cus on growth with attention to basic needs, investment
in human capital formation, and environmental protec-
tion. Although not included in formal measures of eco-
nomic output or GDP, the quality of a country's natural
and human resource base is now recognized to be an
important determinant a!ecting economic growth and
the prospects for improved social welfare (Leonard, 1989;
World Bank, 1990).
This shift in emphasis from strictly economic growth
has emerged in response to increasing recognition of the
problems now facing many developing countries. The
"rst is the persistence of acute poverty. Despite the con-
siderable economic progress made by developing socie-
ties in the post-war period, the absolute numbers of
people living in poverty remains unacceptably high
(Steer, 1992; World Bank, 1990; van der Gaag, 1991;
*Corresponding author. Tel.: 0141-330-6399.
socsci.gla.ac.uk (L. Tole).
IFAD, 1993). According to the 1990 WorldBank's Devel-
opment Report an estimated 1 billion people in the devel-
oping world live in poverty, nearly half of them in
southeast Asia. International poverty pro"les suggest
that these people are likely to live in rural areas, to be in
female-headed households, to be farmers or agricultural
workers, to be landless or near-landless, and to be
a member of an ethnic minority (World Bank, 1990;
IFAD, 1993; Fields, 1980). In addition, wide intra-coun-
try disparities in income and wealth persist, not only
within regions and countries of the developing world but
between countries as well (World Bank, 1990; Fields,
1980; van der Gaag, 1991).
A second problem is the growing environmental
crisis many developing countries now face. As Leonard
(1989) notes, an increasing number of these poor are
situated in marginal, resource-poor and ecologically de-
graded areas. Highly exploitative patterns of subsis-
tence behavior in these areas lead to decreasing agricul-
tural productivity due to environmental decay and re-
source depletion. Similarly, declining resource stocks
and environmental quality undermine economic growth
and development, exacerbating already deep social
inequalities, and hindering the onset of the demographic
A substantial economic literature exists devoted to
understanding the role of poverty and inequality in
economic growth. Similarly, a smaller and more recent
body of literature exists on the relationship between
0959-3780/01/$-see front matter ? 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0 9 5 9 -3 7 80 (0 0 ) 0 00 5 7 - 1
the environment and economic growth. (Sections 2 and 3
below provide a very brief introduction to some of these
works). However, most of the existing literature on
economic development and the environment restricts
itself to qualitative assessments of these relationships or
merely speculates on the probable consequences for de-
velopment arising from environmental degradation and
excessive population growth (Myers, 1993). Despite the
fact that distributional issues have been observed to have
an important impact on economic growth and growth
itself to have important consequences for the environ-
ment,there has been surprisinglylittle attempt to analyze
the links between redistribution and the environment.
This paper will attempt to explore the nature of the
relationship between the environment, poverty, inequal-
ity and economic growth. An important issue addressed
is whether inequality and poverty have any signi"cant
mediating e!ect on observed relationships between
growth and a key indicator of the decline in environ-
mental quality: the rate of forest loss. In other words,
does a country's distributional pro"le in#uence the rela-
tionship between economic development and a country's
After a brief discussion outlining the dimensions of
poverty and inequality in developing countries, the paper
describes recent empirical evidence on the relationship
between development and distribution and the environ-
ment. Following this discussion, the subsequent section
will empirically analyze relationships using panel data
from 48 developing countries. The estimated equations
form the basis of a number of broad generalizations or
`stylized factsa about the linkages between these key
factors. Variables chosen for analysis in the study are
predicted on the basis of the literature to in#uence de-
forestation outcomes, and as such, re#ect key aspects of
the development/deforestation/distribution nexus. It
should be stressed at the outset that these relationships
are not the only ones of importance in#uencing defores-
tation rates. Neither should it be assumed that the
variables chosen for analysis are the only ones compris-
ing this nexus. These relationships form part of a
larger web of factors a!ecting forest loss, the rela-
tions and interrelations of which are highly complex.
Despite this complexity (which makes it impossible to
model these relationships adequately), the study aims to
provide the basis for the development of more informa-
tive models and country-levelinvestigationsof these rela-
tionships in the future.
2. Patterns of poverty and inequality in developing
Empirical research on the distributional aspects of
growth provides a number of implications for the present
(i) Much evidence points to a positive role for
growth in reducing poverty; the incomes of the poor,
in other words, have for the most part tended to rise
with growth (Fields, 1989; World Bank, 1990). Countries
that have made substantial progress in reducing the
incidence of poverty have also been those in which
income per capita has risen sharply (Fields, 1980,
1989). Although inter-temporal surveys of changes
in distributions are lacking, this progress has been
most pronounced in East Asia (recent "nancial crises
notwithstanding). There is also some indication that
income distributions have worsened in the past decade
and a half in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa
(World Bank, 1990; Cardoso and Helwege, 1992; Fields,
(ii) However, rapid economic growth is neither itself
a necessary nor a su$cient condition for the reduction of
poverty since slowly growing countries have achieved
considerable progress in this sphere (van der Gaag,
1991; World Bank, 1990; Fields, 1980, 1989). Countries
that have grown very slowly, such as Sri Lanka and
much of sub-Saharan Africa, have only been able to
raise incomes to any appreciable degree through strong
redistributive e!orts by government (World Bank,
1990). However, to paraphrase one expert, such policy
e!orts havebeen increasingly di$cult for governmentsto
implement in the absence of strong growth (Fields, 1980,
(iii) Economic growth does not necessarily lead to
either greater inequality or greater equality of distribu-
tion, although countries with initially egalitarian income
distributions tend to grow faster than those with in-
egalitarian systems (Fields, 1989; Alesina and Perotti,
1994; Alesina and Rodrik, 1994; Persson and Tabellini,
1994; Birdsall et al., 1995). The initial level of income
distribution appears to be a key factor in whether the
poor will bene"t from rapid growth. Further, growth has
tended to reduce income inequality in the long run, but
the e!ects of growth on income inequality have been less
dramatic than on the alleviation of poverty (Fields, 1980,
(iv) None of the above trends should obscure the fact
that rapid population growth has increased the absolute
numbers of poor in many countries despite overall de-
clines in the relative incidence of poverty (Fields, 1980,
(v) International growth and development compari-
sons suggest that which distributional outcome occurs
depends critically on the kind of public policy environ-
ment that governments choose to foster. The pattern of
development appears to be as or more important, in
other words, than the actual rate of growth in e!ecting
positive distributional changes (Fields, 1980, 1988a,
1994; Ahluwalia, 1976). Summarizing the "ndings of
a large number of international case studies, the World
Bank (1990) concluded that countries that have exhibited
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