Market-oriented approaches to environmental management are increasingly common in all sectors of the economy. Forestry is no exception. As forestry sectors around the world open their doors to growing private sector participation, governments have been increasingly attracted to market-based instruments as a new set of tools for guiding private investment. Of the many instruments available to policy-makers, by far the most ambitious to date is the development of markets for forest environmental services, such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, watershed protection and landscape values. Markets are thought to offer an efficient mechanism for promoting and financing forest protection and sustainable forest management. However, policy-makers' enthusiasm for market development is not matched by practical understanding. Very little guidance is available on the mechanics of market evolution, or on the consequences of markets for human welfare. Unanswered questions abound. What drives market development? How should markets be established? What costs are involved? Will markets improve welfare? Will some stakeholders benefit more than others? How does performance vary between market structures? What is the role for governments? Of particular concern is the lack of knowledge related to what market creation means for poor people. The critical question is whether markets for forest environmental services can contribute to poverty reduction, while at the same time achieving efficient environmental protection. In short, do markets for forest environmental services offer a "silver bullet" for tackling economic,social and environmental problems in the forestry sector, or are they simply "fools' gold"?
Drawing on ideas in New Institutional Economics and recent thinking on forests and poverty, this paper attempts to shed light on these questions through (1) the development of a conceptual framework for guiding research; and (2) the application of this framework in a global review of emerging markets for carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, watershed protection and landscape beauty. In total, 287 cases are reviewed from a range of developed and developing countries in the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.