Alexander Pfaff

Alexander Pfaff

Professor in the Department of Economics

External Address: 
186 Rubenstein Hall, 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

Fisher, B, Herrera, D, Adams, D, Fox, HE, Gallagher, L, Gerkey, D, Gill, D, Golden, CD, Hole, D, Johnson, K, Mulligan, M, Myers, SS, Naidoo, R, Pfaff, A, Rasolofoson, R, Selig, ER, Tickner, D, Treuer, T, and Ricketts, T. "Can nature deliver on the sustainable development goals?." The Lancet. Planetary Health 3, no. 3 (March 2019): e112-e113. Full Text

Pfaff, A, Rodriguez, LA, and Shapiro-Garza, E. "Collective Local Payments for ecosystem services: New local PES between groups, sanctions, and prior watershed trust in Mexico." Water Resources and Economics (January 1, 2019). Full Text

Panlasigui, S, Rico-Straffon, J, Pfaff, A, Swenson, J, and Loucks, C. "Impacts of certification, uncertified concessions, and protected areas on forest loss in Cameroon, 2000 to 2013." Biological Conservation 227 (November 1, 2018): 160-166. Full Text

Pfaff, A, Robalino, J, Reis, EJ, Walker, R, Perz, S, Laurance, W, Bohrer, C, Aldrich, S, Arima, E, Caldas, M, and Kirby, K. "Roads & SDGs, tradeoffs and synergies: Learning from Brazil’s Amazon in distinguishing frontiers." Economics 12 (March 5, 2018). Full Text

Tesfaw, AT, Pfaff, A, Golden Kroner, RE, Qin, S, Medeiros, R, and Mascia, MB. "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): 2084-2089. Full Text

Pfaff, A, Velez, MA, Broad, K, Hamoudi, A, and Taddei, R. "Contracts versus trust for transfers of ecosystem services: Equity and efficiency in resource allocation and environmental provision(Accepted)." Water Resources and Economics (January 1, 2018). Full Text

Kaczan, D, Pfaff, A, Rodriguez, L, and Shapiro-Garza, E. "Increasing the impact of collective incentives in payments for ecosystem services." Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 86 (November 1, 2017): 48-67. Full Text Open Access Copy

Herrera, D, Ellis, A, Fisher, B, Golden, CD, Johnson, K, Mulligan, M, Pfaff, A, Treuer, T, and Ricketts, TH. "Upstream watershed condition predicts rural children's health across 35 developing countries." Nature communications 8, no. 1 (October 9, 2017): 811-. Full Text

Pfaff, A, and Robalino, J. "Spillovers from conservation programs." Annual Review of Resource Economics 9 (October 5, 2017): 299-315. (Review) Full Text

Alpízar, F, Nordén, A, Pfaff, A, and Robalino, J. "Unintended Effects of Targeting an Environmental Rebate." Environmental and Resource Economics 67, no. 1 (May 1, 2017): 181-202. Full Text


Pfaff, A, Amacher, GS, Sills, EO, Coren, MJ, Streck, C, and Lawlor, K. "Deforestation and Forest Degradation: Concerns, Causes, Policies, and Their Impacts." In Encyclopedia of Energy, Natural Resource, and Environmental Economics, 144-149. January 1, 2013. Full Text

"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, 305-318. January 1, 2012. Full Text

Pfaff, A, and Robalino, J. "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. April 2, 2009. Full Text

Perz, S, Messina, JP, Reis, E, Walker, R, and Walsh, SJ. "Scenarios of future Amazonian landscapes: Econometric and dynamic simulation models.", 83-100. January 1, 2009. Full Text

Robalino, JA, Pfaff, A, and Sanchez-Azofeifa, A. "Estimating spatial interactions in deforestation decisions." In Biodiversity Economics, 92-114. January 1, 2007. Full Text

Chen, Y, van Geen, A, Graziano, J, Pfaff, A, Cheng, Z, Slavkovich, V, Islam, T, Parvez, F, and Ahsan, H. "The Effectiveness of a Multidisciplinary Community-Based Mitigation Program in Reducing Arsenic Exposure in Araihazar, Bangladesh." June 1, 2006. Full Text

van Geen, A, Trevisani, M, Immel, J, Gelman, A, Schoenfeld, A, Pfaff, A, and Ahmed, KM. "Targeting low-arsenic aquifers for the installation of community wells in Bangladesh." March 26, 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 awarded by Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (Principal Investigator). 2007 to 2011

LBA Book Project awarded by Department of Agriculture (Principal Investigator). 2009 to 2010