Timber certification is one mechanism for ensuring sustainable forest management. Here are certified timber in a log pond in PT. Sumalindo Lestari Jaya 2, West Kutai district, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Certification is one of the policy areas looked at in the study. Photo by Michael Padmanaba for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

How do different land-use policies interact? New study seeks to find out

Originally published at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Forest News

Call it a “policymaker’s cookbook.”

A group of international experts from academia, research institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has developed a typology to analyze the policy “ecosystem” for different land-management tools.

“Our goal is to understand what combinations of actions by citizens, consumers, NGOs, corporations and governments are best suited to promote sustainable land use,” said Eric Lambin, a professor with the Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research in Belgium and Stanford University in the US.

Lambin is the principal author of a research paper, published recently in Global Environmental Change, that came out of a workshop held in Brussels in 2013 in which participants examined the effectiveness of policies such as eco-certification, payment for environmental services (PES), land-use zoning and commodity roundtables. Moving beyond individual case studies, they brainstormed to develop a typology to encompass the various public, private or hybrid approaches and how they interact.

“It’s not that we need to conceive the perfect instrument, and then apply it everywhere,” Lambin said. “Rather, we need to evaluate as we implement and try to learn, evolve and adapt. In an ideal world, you would design the instrument, implement for two years, make conclusions on what works and then reproduce it elsewhere. But we’re faced with a much more dynamic set of interactions.”


The authors suggest three main interactions among public, private and hybrid policy instruments: complementaritysubstitution and antagonism. Building on earlier research, they suggest these interactions occur at three stages of the regulatory process: agenda-setting and negotiation; implementation; and monitoring and enforcement.

Two governance systems can be complementary when their independent agendas are mutually reinforcing. In a hybrid approach, different instruments divide functions; a private-led certification scheme, for example, could implement a government-led agenda.

Organic certification in agriculture, for example, began as a private initiative, but as different groups developed competing standards, governments stepped in to regulate. Through this kind of complementary interaction, both farmers and consumers were better able to make sense of eco-certification criteria.

Monitoring and enforcement are also often achieved through complementary interactions. Governments, for example, can provide technologies that enable private-led initiatives to monitor and evaluate standards. Public records can also provide private partners with information on compliance and effectiveness.

Public-private interactions are often complementary in the implementation stage, but can also lead to substitution. Substitution may occur when a public policy endorses a private-led initiative to avoid developing new regulations that would duplicate implementation costs. For example, the voluntary, private Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)’s certification scheme has recently been endorsed by the Government of Cameroon as one possible “evidence” that timber has been produced legally, thus avoiding double controls on certified logging companies and reducing the implementation costs of the national standards to combat illegal logging.

Sometimes certification schemes, roundtables, moratoriums and other forms of private regulations can undermine governments’ efforts to pass stronger regulations; conversely, the development of legal norms can decrease incentives to adhere to more stringent private standards. These are examples of antagonistic relationships.


Interactions among policy instruments make it challenging to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. Moreover, many well-intentioned NGOs set up eco-certification schemes without establishing a baseline that could show “before-and-after” differences. As a result, even when overall positive impacts are observed on the ground, it’s very difficult to attribute them to a single policy, be it public or private.

“It’s not enough to observe better social, environmental and economic conditions in or around, say, a plantation or a logging concession,” said study co-author Paolo Cerutti, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“The positive results might have happened anyway because of an individual company’s commitment to sustainability. If positive impacts occur, that is of course very good, but to be more effective in devising and implementing ‘good’ policies across temporal and geographical scales, we need to better understand the reasons why those impacts came about and the role played by public and private policies.”

The dynamic nature of policy instruments also makes them hard to pin down.

“We’re living in a world where new instruments are constantly being designed, revised and implemented,” Lambin said. “That’s why we end the paper by promoting the concept of ‘adaptive management’ or ‘experimentalist governance’. We can’t put our actions on hold until we collect enough evidence — we can only make progress by evaluating action as we go.”

For Lambin, being aware of the complexities is already a step in the right direction.

“Case studies are essential to understand the story of a specific commodity in context,” he said.

“At the same time, it was important to bring 12 people into a room to look for general patterns that can inspire new research questions. We will now continue work on our specific policy instruments, but with a greater awareness of the interactions. That will probably help us do a better job.”



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