Honours student's project reveals impact of treaties on deforestation in Indigenous territories

July 14, 2020

A fifth-year economics honours student, Ziheng Qin's interests in negative externalities and data analysis led him to complete his thesis about the effect of treaties between government and Indigenous communities on deforestation. 

In an impressive feat, Qin's thesis "The Negative Externality of Government Subsidy: Evidence from Modern Treaties" was selected as one of the top twelve papers to be presented at the highly competitive Canadian Economics Association - Bank of Canada (CEA-BOA) Undergraduate Student Paper Award poster session last month.

"Although research has shown that modern treaties financially benefit minority groups, we also need to be mindful of the external costs and side effects resulting from those policies."

By analyzing data sourced from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and the Government of Canada, Qin observed a pattern showing that modern treaties (1986 - 2011) between the Canadian government and Indigenous communities have unforeseen negative consequences on the environment.

"Before the implementation of modern treaties, the ownership of a forest was ambiguous so logging companies did not know who to obtain logging rights from for a particular area. Even if one group gives its consent, another group might contest that decision." 

As Qin explains, "Once ownership is defined through a treaty, the logging company then knows who to negotiate with hence resulting in increased deforestation in those regions."

"It was exciting to be selected by CEA-BOC as one of the top 12 papers. My achievement would never have been possible without the help I received. I would like to express my special thanks to my thesis supervisor associate professor Shih En Lu, professor Anke Kessler, and associate professor Fernando M. Aragon, as well as the SFU librarians and my classmates for their support."

In order to examine the impact of modern treaties on the environment, Qin compiled and analyzed large amounts of geographic information system (GIS) data using software such as QGIS, Microsoft Excel, and Stata. The project called on Qin to hone his data analysis skills which he sees as indispensable for paving his future career. 

"With the rise of big data, there is a growing demand for employees with a background in data analysis," says Qin. "Many jobs nowadays can be easily automated but for data analysis, you still need to able to view the data through the lens of the human experience."

As Qin reaches the end of his undergraduate degree, he plans to further develop those skills as he pursues a graduate program in economics and a career in monetary policy. 

Course Recommendations

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