Understanding the role of illicit transactions in land-change dynamics

Illegal activities and corruption have a major impact on land use changes and the related sustainability debate. Due to the hidden nature and the dangers of explicitly investigating this, too little attention is paid to this.

01/16/2020 | 2:53 PM

Professor of Spatial Environmental Analysis Peter Verburg of the Institute for Environmental Studies, together with colleagues from Arizona State University and the University of Alabama, sketches on the basis of a new conceptual model how data on this phenomenon can be collected and included in international models for quantifying the consequences for climate change and biodiversity. The research was published on January 13 in Nature Sustainability; "Understanding the role of illicit transactions in land-change dynamics".

The researchers indicate in the publication how important it is to map the role of illegal and corrupt practices on land use change by combining data from satellite images and land use activities in innovative ways.

Examples of illegal practices
Illegal activities range from deforestation for narco drugs in Costa Rica to the illegal mining of sand by Mafia groups in India and illegal transactions between property developers and politicians in the US. Everywhere in the world there are examples of illegal activities that have a major impact on land use. Scientists estimate that 40% of global deforestation is illegal and that in some countries, such as Indonesia and Brazil, this can go up to 80%. Failure to include these activities can have major consequences for quantifying the impact of land use on climate and biodiversity and shaping effective policies. The research is a call to the scientific community to take this topic seriously by using the new model.

A good example is recent work on the correlation between narco trafficking and deforestation in Central America where the specific deforestation patterns that these activities generate are used to recognize them.

Interdisciplinary research necessary
“To understand the extent and underlying processes of these land use changes, interdisciplinary research is needed: if you want to understand the relationship between corruption and deforestation, you must bring a geographer together with a political scientist who can explain how corruption works and an economist who can look at the financial transactions that take place. Explicitly addressing these processes requires not only new techniques and methods, but also breaking the barriers to cooperation between the disciplines, ”says Verburg.