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Political Economy of the Environment in a (Non-) Democracy


Conservation efforts are crucial in combating climate change and depend on state effectiveness. This paper examines the impact of varying political institutions on the extraction and preservation of environmental resources. I develop a theoretical framework that highlights how extraction and preservation present distinct incentive challenges for the state, shaped by the nature of the resource, political stability, and government accountability. The model predicts an inverse U-shaped trajectory for forest extraction as political institutions transition from autoc- racy to weakly-institutionalized and then to strongly-institutionalized democracies, peaking in weakly-institutionalized democracies. In contrast, the expansion of wildlife conservation estates is predicted to decline monotonically through these political stages, reaching their lowest point in strongly-institutionalized democracies. To test these predictions, this paper documents all boundary changes in Kenya’s state-managed forests and wildlife conservation estates from 1964 to 2022. This data is then coupled with high-resolution satellite imagery, building upon existing remote sensing algorithms to advance the use of historical imagery. The findings provide empir- ical support for the theoretical predictions. Additionally, increased encroachment on protected forest areas is observed during periods of weakly-institutionalized democracy, particularly in lo- calities with ethnically diverse populations. In contrast, it is observed that wildlife conservation expansions during autocratic times tends to occur in localities with marginalized groups.


Working Paper


Ameet Morjaria

Date Published



Morjaria, Ameet. 2023. Political Economy of the Environment in a (Non-) Democracy.


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