If adopted, this type of program could have potential to reduce global carbon emissions by between 2 and 10 percent.
The calculations, based on three different forestry and land-use models, provide the best estimates so far of how much it would cost developed nations to participate in a program called "avoided deforestation" to reduce worldwide carbon emissions.
Under such a program, wealthy nations would help achieve reduced emissions globally by paying landowners in developing nations not to cut down wide swaths of forested land to make way for agricultural uses.
Tropical deforestation, the cutting and burning of trees to convert land to grow crops and raise livestock, accounts for about a fifth of all human-caused carbon emissions in the world.
The research attaches estimated dollar amounts to each metric ton of carbon that could be saved through avoided deforestation in Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.
According to Brent Sohngen, a study co-author and professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State University, based on these estimates, the overall cost to buy carbon credits would be lower than what developed nations would expect to pay to reduce emissions through regulation of industry, transportation and energy sources.
"Compared to other options, an avoided deforestation program would be relatively cheap and practical for the United States," said Sohngen, who developed one of three models used to calculate the estimates.
"It would save American taxpayers money and provide a huge transfer of funding from one region of the world to another, giving developing countries a larger chunk of the world's economic pie to use as they see fit," he added.
"If this kind of program could stop deforestation, it would provide a bigger source of biodiversity by retaining a larger stock of tropical forest, keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and provide money to people in developing countries to pursue new forms of livelihood that don't involve cutting down trees," said Sohngen.
"The results indicate that substantial emission reductions could be accomplished through 2030, the period we examined," he added.