A Legal Butterfly Effect: Unexpected Twists and Turns of the Law in Costa Rica’s Payment for Ecosystem Services Program

  • Pablo G. PeñaEmail author


Costa Rica’s Payment for Ecosystem Services program (PES) is one of the most studied exercises of its kind but closer examination of the program’s legal framework and governance is still lacking. The PES did not occur on a vacuum; laws and policies outside the boundaries of the PES’ regulations shape the way it evolved and functions. The supervisory checks and balances of the forestry regency system, the public funds laws that reduced the program’s flexibility, and the administrative simplification process across the Costa Rican government are all examples of policies outside the PES that strongly influence its functioning. Foreign policies also shaped the PES. For example, the World Bank-sponsored structural changes of the Costa Rican economy during the 1980’s helped shift the rationale from forest subsidies to payments for ecosystem services. In addition, a closer look at the PES on the ground provides interesting opportunities to reflect on the effects of this legal framework. For example, the way violations to forest laws occur and are dealt with by judges and PES officials most likely had an effect on the Costa Rican forest cover, which is missed in studies focused on the additionality of the program. Ultimately, however, people implement the PES and this paper suggests an interesting dynamic between two types of bureaucrats at the program, the ‘technicians’ and the ‘lawyers’. The ‘lawyers’ seem to have displaced the ‘technicians’ in a process of ‘rendering legal’ nature, which has conflicting implications for the PES effectiveness. All these dynamics may suggest a legal ‘butterfly effect’ that policy-makers ought to be aware of when designing and implementing environmental institutions and mechanisms.


Payment for ecosystem services Forest governance Environmental law REDD+ Costa Rica 



I would like thank various people for their contribution to this chapter. First, Mr Carlos Manuel Rodríguez of Conservation International—Costa Rica, for his support and guidance for this research. Also, to the students and instructors of the ‘Writing in the Social Sciences’ workshop at Yale F&ES, for extensively reviewing the first drafts. Finally, to my informants on the ground from Limón and Sarapiquí, for generously sharing their time and patiently waiting for me on the field to catch my breath.

I would like to acknowledge the financial support at Yale University provided by the Tropical Resources Institute, the Program of Agrarian Studies, the Jubitz Family Endowment for Research Internships Fund, and the Carpenter Sperry Fund, which allowed me to conduct this research.

Finally, special thanks should be given to Dr Amity Doolittle at Yale University, for her advice and continuous support to this research project.


  1. Adams WM, Hutton J (2007) People, parks and poverty: political ecology and biodiversity conservation. Conserv Soc 5(2):147–183Google Scholar
  2. Aguilar X (1995) Veda forestal ¿una llamada de atención? Rev Forestal Centroamericana 4(11):40–43Google Scholar
  3. Arraigada RA, Ferraro PJ, Sills EO, Pattanayak SK, Cordero-Sancho S (2012) Do payments for environmental services affect forest cover? A farm-level evaluation from Costa Rica. Land Econ 88(2):382–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnes J (2014) Cultivating the Nile: the everyday politics of water in Egypt. Duke University Press Books, DurhamCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barreiro P (2012) Opportunity analysis of payment for ecosystem services: policy design and implementation for coffee agroforestry systems in Costa Rica. Trop Resour 31:56–66Google Scholar
  6. Castro Salazar M, Peña Chacón M (2011) The case of Costa Rica. In: Greiber T, Schiele S (eds) Governance of ecosystem services: lessons from Cameroon, China, Costa Rica and Ecuador. IUCN, Gland, pp 73–91Google Scholar
  7. Camacho MA, Segura O, Reyes V, Aguilar A (2000) Pago por servicios ambientales en Costa Rica. Prisma: San SalvadorGoogle Scholar
  8. Cole RJ (2010) Social and environmental impacts of payments for environmental services for agroforestry on small-scale farms in southern Costa Rica. Int J Sustain Dev World Ecol 17:208–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daniels A, Bagstad K, Esposito V, Moulaert A, Rodriguez CM (2010) Understanding the impacts of Costa Rica’s PES: are we asking the right questions? Ecol Econ 69(11):2116–2126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. FCPF (2012) Forest carbon partnership facility Costa Rica forest carbon partnership facility REDD readiness: readiness preparation proposal (R-PP) assessment note. Retrived April 26, 2013, from
  11. Fletcher R, Breitling J (2012) Market mechanism or subsidy in disguise? Governing payment for environmental services in Costa Rica. Geoforum 43(3):402–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. FONAFIFO (2005) FONAFIFO: over a decade of action. FONAFIFO, San JoséGoogle Scholar
  13. FONAFIFO (2012a) Distribución de hectáreas contratadas en pago de los servicios ambientales, por año y por modalidad. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from
  14. Government of Costa Rica (2009) Manual de Procedimientos para el Pago de Servicios Ambientales. Retrieved July 3, 2015 from
  15. Le Coq JF, Froger G, Legrand T, Pesche D, Saenz-Segura F (2010) Payment for environmental services program in Costa Rica: a policy process analysis perspective. Retrieved September 9, 2012, from
  16. Li T (2007) The will to improve: governmentality, development, and the practice of politics. Duke University Press, DurhamCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Locatelli B, Rojas V, Salinas Z (2008) Impacts of payments for environmental services on local development in northern Costa Rica: a fuzzy multi-criteria analysis. For Policy Econ 10(5):275–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. McShane TO, Hirsch PD, Trung TC, Songorwa AN, Kinzig A, Monteferri B, Mutekanga D, Thang HV, Dammert JL, Pulgar-Vidal M, Welch-Devine M, Brosius JP, Coppolillo P, O’Connor S (2011) Hard choices: making trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and human well-being. Biol Conserv 144(3):966–972CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Morse WC, Schedlbauer JL, Sesnie SE, Finegan B, Harvey CA, Hollenhorst SJ, Kavanagh KL, Stoian D, Wulfhorst JD (2009) Consequences of environmental service payments for forest retention and recruitment in a Costa Rican biological corridor. Ecol Soc 14(1):23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pagiola S (2002) Paying for water services in Central America: Learning from Costa Rica. In: Pagiola S, Bishop J, Landell-Mills N (eds) Selling forest environmental services: market-based mechanisms for conservation. Earthscan Publications Ltd, London, pp 37–61Google Scholar
  21. Pagiola S (2008) Payments for environmental services in Costa Rica. Ecol Econ 65(4):712–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Peña Chacón M (2004) El régimen económico y jurídico de los servicios ambientales. Medio Ambiente & Derecho, 10Google Scholar
  23. Peña Chacón M (2006, n.d.) The legal and economic regime of environmental services in Costa Rica. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from
  24. Phelps J, Guerrero MC, Dalabajan DA, Young B, Webb EL (2010) What makes a ‘REDD’ country? Glob Environ Change 20(2):322–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Plaff A, Robalino JA, Sanchez-Asofeifa GA (2008) Payments for environmental services: empirical analysis for Costa Rica. Duke University, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  26. Robinson J, Redford K (2004) Jack of all trades, master of none: inherent contradictions among ICD approaches. In: McShane T, Wells M (eds) Getting biodiversity projects to work: towards more effective conservation and development. Columbia University Press, New York, pp 10–34Google Scholar
  27. Russo R, Candela G (2006) Payment of environmental services in Costa Rica: evaluating impact and possibilities. Tierra Trop 2(1):1–13Google Scholar
  28. Sánchez-Azofeifa A, Pfaff A, Robalino JA, Boomhower JP (2007) Costa Rica’s payment for environmental services program: intention, implementation, and impact. Conserv Biol 21(5):1165–1173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Scott J (1999) Seeing like a State: how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. Yale University Press, New Haven and LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Sierra R, Russman E (2006) On the efficiency of environmental service payments: a forest conservation assessment in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Ecol Econ 59(1):131–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Takacs, D. (2009) Forest Carbon: Law and Property Rights. Conservation International, ArlingtonGoogle Scholar
  32. Wells M, Brandon K (1992) People and parks: linking protected area management with local communities. The World Bank, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  33. Wells M, McShane T, Dublin H, O’Connor S, Redford K (2004) The future integrated conservation and development projects: building on what works. In: McShane T, Wells M (eds) Getting biodiversity projects to work: towards more effective conservation and development. Columbia University Press, New York, pp 397–419Google Scholar
  34. Wunder S (2005) Payments for environmental services: some nuts and bolts. CIFOR Occasional Paper 42. CIFOR, BogorGoogle Scholar
  35. Wunder S (2007) The efficiency of payments for environmental services in tropical conservation. Conserv Biol 21(1):48–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Zbinden S, Lee D (2005) Paying for environmental services: an analysis of participation in Costa Rica’s PSA program. World Dev 33(2):255–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Law and Policy SpecialistPeruvian Society for Environmental LawLimaPeru
  2. 2.School of Forestry and Environmental StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations