Alexander Pfaff

Alexander Pfaff

Professor in the Department of Economics

External Address: 
284 Rubenstein Hall, Box 90312, Durham, NC 27708
Internal Office Address: 
Box 90312, Durham, NC 27708
(919) 613-9240

Alex Pfaff is a Professor of Public Policy, Economics and Environment. Trained as an economist, he is focused on how the environment and natural resources, economic development, and a range of policies influence each other.

Research accessible at

He has studied: impacts on forests of protected areas, incentives, roads, railroads and concessions/certification (Brazil’s Amazon, Costa Rica, United States, Panama, Madagascar, Mexico, Peru, Cameroon, Bolivia); institutional responses to water shocks (Brazil’s Northeast, Colombia, Mexico); drivers of harmful exposures (groundwater arsenic in Bangladesh, stove emissions in China & Pakistan); and incentives for firms to self-audit and disclose (United States). This applied research aims to increase the chance that policies have their intended impacts upon not only the environment but also the people affected.


  • Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1995
  • B.A., Yale University 1988

Keles, D., P. Delacote, A. Pfaff, S. Qin, and M. B. Mascia. “What Drives the Erasure of Protected Areas? Evidence from across the Brazilian Amazon.” Ecological Economics 176 (October 1, 2020). Full Text

Díaz, Sandra, Josef Settele, Eduardo S. Brondízio, Hien T. Ngo, John Agard, Almut Arneth, Patricia Balvanera, et al. “Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change.Science (New York, N.Y.) 366, no. 6471 (December 2019). Full Text

Herrera, Diego, Alexander Pfaff, and Juan Robalino. “Impacts of protected areas vary with the level of government: Comparing avoided deforestation across agencies in the Brazilian Amazon.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116, no. 30 (July 8, 2019): 14916–25. Full Text

Naidoo, R., D. Gerkey, D. Hole, A. Pfaff, A. M. Ellis, C. D. Golden, D. Herrera, et al. “Evaluating the impacts of protected areas on human well-being across the developing world.Science Advances 5, no. 4 (April 3, 2019): eaav3006. Full Text

Fisher, Brendan, Diego Herrera, Diane Adams, Helen E. Fox, Louise Gallagher, Drew Gerkey, David Gill, et al. “Can nature deliver on the sustainable development goals?The Lancet. Planetary Health 3, no. 3 (March 2019): e112–13. Full Text

Panlasigui, Stephanie, Stephanie Jimena Rico-Straffon, Stephanie Alexander Pfaff, Stephanie Jennifer Swenson, and Stephanie Colby Loucks. “Impacts of certification, uncertified concessions, and protected areas on forest loss in Cameroon, 2000 to 2013.” Biological Conservation 227 (November 2018): 160–66. Full Text

Pfaff, A., J. Robalino, E. J. Reis, R. Walker, S. Perz, W. Laurance, C. Bohrer, et al. “Roads & SDGs, tradeoffs and synergies: Learning from Brazil’s Amazon in distinguishing frontiers.” Economics 12 (March 5, 2018). Full Text

Tesfaw, Anteneh T., Alexander Pfaff, Rachel E. Golden Kroner, Siyu Qin, Rodrigo Medeiros, and Michael B. Mascia. “Land-use and land-cover change shape the sustainability and impacts of protected areas.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115, no. 9 (February 12, 2018): 2084–89. Full Text


Pfaff, A., G. S. Amacher, E. O. Sills, M. J. Coren, C. Streck, and K. Lawlor. “Deforestation and Forest Degradation: Concerns, Causes, Policies, and Their Impacts.” In Encyclopedia of Energy, Natural Resource, and Environmental Economics, 2–3:144–49, 2013. Full Text

Robalino, J., A. Pfaff, and L. Villalobos. “Assessing the impact of institutional design of payments for environmental services: The costa rican experience.” In Ecosystem Services from Agriculture and Agroforestry: Measurement and Payment, 305–18, 2012. Full Text

Pfaff, A., and J. Robalino. “Human choices and policies' impacts on ecosystem services: Improving evaluations of payment and park effects on conservation and carbon.” In Avoided Deforestation: Prospects for Mitigating Climate Change, 192–207, 2009. Full Text

Perz, S., J. P. Messina, E. Reis, R. Walker, and S. J. Walsh. “Scenarios of future Amazonian landscapes: Econometric and dynamic simulation models,” 186:83–100, 2009. Full Text

Robalino, J. A., A. Pfaff, and A. Sanchez-Azofeifa. “Estimating spatial interactions in deforestation decisions.” In Biodiversity Economics, 92–114, 2007. Full Text

Kerr, Suzi, Shuguang Liu, Alexander Pfaff, and Flint Hughes. “Carbon Dynamics and Land-use Choices: Building a Regional-scale Multidisciplinary Model,” September 3, 2003.

Kerr, Suzi, Joanna Hendy, Shuguang Liu, and Alexander Pfaff. “Tropical Forest Protection, Uncertainty, and the Environmental Integrity of Carbon Mitigation Policies,” n.d.

Robalino, Juan, Alexander Pfaff, and Laura Villalobos. “Deforestation spillovers from Costa Rican protected areas,” n.d.

Rico, Jimena, Stephanie Panlasigui, Colby J. Loucks, Jennifer Swenson, and Alexander Pfaff. “Logging concessions, certification and protected areas in the Peruvian Amazon: forest impacts from development rights and land-use restrictions,” n.d.

Chen, Y., A. van Geen, J. Graziano, A. Pfaff, Z. Cheng, V. Slavkovich, T. Islam, F. Parvez, and H. Ahsan. “The Effectiveness of a Multidisciplinary Community-Based Mitigation Program in Reducing Arsenic Exposure in Araihazar, Bangladesh.” In American Journal of Epidemiology, 163:S115–S115. Oxford University Press (OUP), 2006. Full Text

Geen, Alexander van, Matilde Trevisani, John Immel, Andrew Gelman, Amy Schoenfeld, Alex Pfaff, and Kazi Matin Ahmed. “Targeting low-arsenic aquifers for the installation of community wells in Bangladesh.” In Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 231. AMER CHEMICAL SOC, 2006.

Selected Grants

Sustainable Landscapes and Forest Enterprise Cluster Program in Brazil awarded by Department of Agriculture (Principal Investigator). 2010 to 2020

Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED2) awarded by Columbia University (Principal Investigator). 2010 to 2015

Forest Impacts of Certification awarded by World Wildlife Fund (Principal Investigator). 2014 to 2015

Conservation Policy Impacts in Tropical Dry Forest Regional & Spatially Focused Analyses Given Other Social and Natural Drivers of Land Use awarded by Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (Principal Investigator). 2007 to 2011