Hisham Zerriffi

Associate Professor

Research Interests

Biomass (Energy)
Energy Transformation and Energy Using
International development
Environment and Society
Ideological, Political, Economical and Social Environments of Social Transformations
Social and Cultural Factors of Environmental Protection
energy poverty

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Research Methodology

qualitative methods
survey design and analysis
techno-economic assessment


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round

I do not have current funding for additional graduate students or post-doctoral scholars but am generally interested in modeling of energy access in developing countries, assessment of socio-ecological linkages in energy use, household choice and welfare implications related to energy use, and synergies and tradeoffs in meeting sustainable development goals in forestry, energy and land-use. Potential students or post-doctoral scholars with fellowships are welcome to contact me to discuss whether our research interests align.

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).
I am interested in supervising students to conduct interdisciplinary research.

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Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


I want thank @hishamzerriffi and @garyqbull for being #greatsupervisor 's during appreciation week. I would not be where I am today without all their help, guidance, support. So too Dr.Valerie LeMay, not a supervisor, but helped me as one!


Hard to believe I am slowly inching closer to the end of a PhD. From Day 1, @leilaharris has believed in me and supported me. So has @hishamzerriffi. Thank you for being a #GreatSupervisor!


This is the supervisor appreciation week! My PhD supervisor @hishamzerriffi is extremely knowledgeable & brilliant. He is a wonderful person, who is highly approachable. I'd say he is the most democratic supervisor I have ever worked with. Thank you Hisham! #GreatSupervisor #UBC


@ubcires On the occasion of the supervisor appreciation week, my heartfelt thanks to @hishamzerriffi. He is a great mentor, brilliant academic but most imp a kind person to work with. Grateful. Forever. #GreatSupervisor #UBC


As a PhD student, what you need in a supervisor is foresight, empathy, and patience. Thank you Hisham (@ERDELab) for having these qualities in abundance! #GreatSupervisor #UBC


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Efficiency and effectiveness: exploring the goals of technology-diverse universal electrification strategies (2021)

More than 2 billion people have come within the expanding reach of electricity access in the last two decades. Still, globally ~840 million people lack access to any form of electricity. As per SDG7 timeline, universal electrification should happen by 2030. From the point of view of strategies, the pursuit of universal electrification has two types of goals. One relates to efficiency. This could be economic or environmental efficiency - i.e. electrifying the largest population at the lowest cost or with lowest environmental burden. And the other relates to effectiveness – which mainly constitutes the social and developmental goals of electricity provision being sufficient, reliable, affordable and equitable. In this dissertation, I examine the challenges to these goals. Using modeling-based approaches on an example country (Tanzania), I first analyze one particular impediment to economic efficiency: grid-dominance in the electrification market and its impact on strategic investment decisions by off-grid developers. As far as effectiveness is concerned, I address one particular challenge: distributive concerns around electricity pricing. Such effectiveness concerns fall under the broader societal goals of justice and fairness. Key outcomes of this work include novel methodologies for incorporating non-technological factors into electrification modeling. In doing so, my research takes the techno-economic model beyond the least-cost metrics. Modeling results show that (for Tanzania) uncertainty around grid arrival risks large scale misallocation of potential off-grid investments and may leave a large segment of population without electricity. In order to achieve cost-efficiency as well as fair pricing – it appears that an affordability-based pricing produces a lower burden on grid connected customers than a constant price. Apart from the analytical part of my research, I also take a deep dive into understanding what justice could mean in the context of electrification – and show how electrification may face multiple moral trade-offs.

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Fossil fuel phase outs to meet global climate targets: investigating the spatial and temporal dimensions of just transitions (2021)

Fossil fuel industries currently employ millions and contribute to local and national economies. However, to keep global warming well below 2°C, fossil fuels need to dramatically decline. Scholars in many academic fields are focusing on “just transition” strategies for mitigating the impact of fossil fuel industry declines on workers and their communities. The research on this topic is nascent, and limited to conceptualizing and defining the role of stakeholders in just transition planning, and investigating renewable energy jobs as an option for fossil fuel workers. In this dissertation, I conducted a systematic review of the academic literature on just transition to synthesize identified elements of just transition. Next, I collected a novel employment factors dataset and combined it with an integrated assessment model to analyze the energy sector employment implications of climate policies. I also assessed whether ‘local’ renewable jobs can be created for fossil fuel workers in key coal producing countries. Finally, I collected several novel datasets to quantify and compare the scale of current socio-economic dependency on coal at the district level in India. Three primary insights emerge from this research. First, just transition literature to date has focused on coal workers in OECD countries and is largely normative. The existing literature provides key elements of a just transition that vary in spatial scale, justice forms, and timeframe. Second, while renewable energy jobs could offset fossil fuel job losses in the aggregate in most countries, this is not true everywhere. Moreover, it may not always be feasible to create ‘local’ renewable jobs for fossil fuel workers. This highlights the need to focus on non-renewable industries for fossil fuel workers’ job transition. Third, there can be large variations in the scale and type of socio-economic dependency on fossil fuels within a country. Overall, this dissertation shows the need for a more holistic understanding of the implications of fossil fuel industry declines on workers and communities.

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Linking household energy to local and global environmental change: understanding impacts of clean cooking interventions in rural India (2020)

Almost 40% of the global population relies on fuelwood to meet their daily cooking energy needs, accounting for over 50% of all wood extracted in many developing countries. This dependency can have negative impacts on forest stocks and climate change, and is not expected to decline without a major change in current polices. Consequently, there is a need for improved understanding of fuelwood dependency to both inform the transition to cleaner cooking solutions and for sustainable management of local forest resources to ensure supply for dependent communities in the interim. This requires a careful analysis of the long-term management of local forest and agroforestry resources, the particular fuel collection habits of local populations, and the impact of new cooking technologies and fuels on fuelwood consumption. However, understanding biomass extraction and its impacts on forest resources remains under-developed in comparison to demand-side issues of fuelwood consumption. I fill these gaps by first tracking household fuelwood collection behavior in two regions of India. The patterns indicate that fuelwood collection is a function of both socio-economic drivers and the resource base, and collection is not evenly spread out among villages. Next, I demonstrate the need to develop local level estimates of biomass renewability to isolate household fuelwood collection impacts on local forest resources. Then, I estimate the impact of cooking solutions on fuelwood consumption behavior and the circumstances under which households move away from forest fuelwood sources. Finally, I examine a national level transition to clean cooking in India over ten years, and conclude that it reduced pressure on forests and achieved modest climate change mitigation benefits with some uncertainty due to the extent of biomass renewability and inclusion of differing climate-forcing emissions. Overall, the dissertation elucidates the need for local level estimates to isolate household fuelwood extraction impacts on forests and climate change, and the need to carefully consider spatial scale and included emissions in future analyses and policy-making.  

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A behavioral perspective on transition pathways to clean cooking fuels: the case of liquefied petroleum gas usage in India (2019)

About 2.9 billion people, primarily in rural areas of low-income countries, do not have access to clean cooking fuels (e.g. gas and electricity). Instead, they burn solid fuels (e.g. firewood and coal) in polluting primitive cookstoves. These traditional cooking methods and associated solid fuel gathering practices, contribute to gender inequalities, forest degradation, climate change and millions of premature deaths annually due to air pollution. Even when households adopt (acquire) clean cooking solutions, often both solid and clean fuels are used. Past research has rarely focused on post-adoption fuel choices. Moreover, while socio-economic demographics like income and education are identified as key transition factors, these are not amenable to near-term change. I drew upon three influential behavior change and technology adoption theories to develop a conceptual framework of self-regulatory behavior change to understand post-adoption usage and expedite the transition process. I developed hypotheses involving psychological variables to explain the how and why of transition across the pre and post-adoption periods, which I tested in the context of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) use in rural India. I accessed gas purchase records for all LPG users (N= 25,000) across 126 villages in Karnataka and administered two cross-sectional household sample surveys (n1=402, n2= 205). Three novel insights emerge from this research. First, the majority of consumers do not use LPG as their primary cooking fuel and, contrary to studies based on self-reports, LPG use does not increase with experience or familiarity. This highlights the need for post-adoption interventions. Second, in line with theory, the transition is a five-stage process, wherein people in different stages have significantly different perceptions of the advantages, disadvantages, and self-confidence related to regular LPG use. Further, perceived disadvantages emerge as more influential during the transition compared to household wealth, highlighting the need for behavior change strategies. Third, the comparison of self-reports of use with purchase data shows 2/3rd of respondents over-reporting LPG use, highlighting the need to account for survey biases. Overall, the dissertation shows that the application of behavior change theories and the use of fuel sales data provided valuable insights about post-adoption fuel choice decisions.

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"Market" participation for development and environmental sustainability: Costa Rican dairy markets and payments for ecosystem services (2018)

Producer participation in markets, including modernized food value chains (MFVCs) and conservation programs like payments for environmental services (PES), is promoted for both human development and environmental sustainability. Participation can benefit farmers but there are concerns that limiting producer choice and concentrating power with intermediaries could have negative consequences for wellbeing and sustainability. PES and MFVCs have similarities for participating producers, suggesting scope for cross-pollination and insight. However, the literatures remain largely separate, tend to consider a narrow set of indicators, and produce mixed results.This dissertation explores the following questions in the case of dairy farmers in Costa Rica: (1) How and when can producer participation in intermediary-driven food and environmental value chains lead to positive outcomes for wellbeing and sustainability? (2) How and when is it useful to consider PES and food value chains together? Using statistical and qualitative methods with 217 household surveys and 23 key informant interviews, this dissertation assesses how indicators of human wellbeing, broadly conceived, and agricultural practices differ between farms supplying MFVCs versus traditional dairy value chains, and between those who are and are not participating in PES. Chapter 2 uses an adaptive capacity framing to show that Costa Rican producers selling in MFVCs were likely better equipped to manage change than those selling in traditional markets. Chapter 3 provides evidence that wellbeing in MFVCs also varied between value chains: those selling via a multinational cooperative appear substantially better off than those selling to a private processor. Chapter 4 presents evidence that PES participants experienced limited material wellbeing benefits from participation; rather, values appeared to be an important motivator for many. Chapter 5 examines correlations between the use of more sustainable agricultural practices and participation in MFVCs and PES. MFVCs appear to be a stronger force than environmental values in shaping farm management choices. This dissertation highlights the value of a broad approach to wellbeing that considers non-material benefits and motivations alongside material ones. Considering Costa Rican PES and dairy market participation together highlights intermediaries and producer-intermediary relationships as important in influencing human and environmental outcomes when farmers participate in MFVCs and PES.

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Twisted energy ladder: complexities and unintended consequences in the transition to modern energy services (2014)

More than one-third of the world’s population has inadequate access to modern energy services and suffers as a consequence. A better understanding of energy transition is vital for improving future programs. This thesis investigates the challenges of transitioning to modern energy services with the goal of informing policy-making. Chapter 2 is a review of the literature on energy analysis and energy system uptake by the households with a particular focus on rural regions. Building upon the findings in the literature, a new conceptual framework is developed that can act as a basis for developing new empirical and theoretical models of household energy system uptake and use. In Chapter 3, the private sector based approach to rural energy provision (i.e. electrification and Improved Cookstove (ICS) dissemination) is investigated by examining two enterprises in India. Results indicate that the private sector based approach to rural energy provision cannot be a universal solution. It further shows that enterprises are facing many challenges that are beyond their capacity to address, necessitating alternate approaches to private sector involvement.Chapter 4 and 5 investigate the uptake of ICS by commercial kitchens in Bangalore and its potential health implications. The attributes of ICS and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) stove, as perceived by stove users and owners, are explored and the reasons for purchasing ICS are assessed. Results indicate that both groups mostly prefer LPG stoves and that ICS uptake is mainly motivated by economic factors. The potential health implications of this switch in the commercial kitchens are explored by investigating the stove’s emission characteristics (based on both secondary data and direct emission measurements), the stoves smokiness (as perceived by users and owners); and some health symptoms associated with stove smoke. Uptake of ICS by these commercial kitchens is found to potentially have adverse health implications. In brief, this thesis concludes that rural energy provision policies can be improved through a greater emphasis on the human dimension, comprehensive assessment of the target population, and ongoing evaluation of the programs’ outcomes given the major challenges in improving rural energy access and possibilities for spillovers into other market segments.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

'Voluntary' resettlement for improved livelihoods? Examining food security, nutrition, and informed consent amongst land reform participants in southern Malawi (2016)

Land scarcity and food insecurity are critical concerns for billions of individuals worldwide; voluntary resettlement, as a type of land reform, offers governments and aid agencies a controversial approach to address these concerns. This thesis examines the case of a US$38-million World Bank-funded voluntary resettlement scheme in southern Malawi known as the Community Based Rural Land Development Project, through which 15,000 low-income farming households moved internally from densely populated areas to underutilized plantations between 2004 and 2011. The project and its explicit goals (to increase participant income and agricultural productivity) have been the subject of several studies, but the wider range of indirect outcomes and possible unintended consequences are lesser known, which this thesis works to address. The first analytic chapter assesses the extent to which the project was ‘voluntary’, and considers the real versus perceived land tenure claims established by the programme. To enhance understanding this analysis, this chapter also considers factors influencing household participation and withdrawal in the resettlement. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of surveys (N=203), focus group discussions (N=5) and interviews (N=20) suggest that participants did not have a clear understanding of the project conditions, and that they perceived their new ownership rights to be more secure and individual than they were by law. Additionally, attrition rates were analyzed: despite numerous influences factoring into participant decisions to withdraw and return ‘home’, availability of land in the district of origin and access to infrastructure in the district of resettlement played significant roles. The second analytic chapter assesses the effectiveness of voluntary resettlement in improving food security, including its effects on dietary diversity. Regressions and statistical analyses of Dietary Diversity Scores indicate that participants had statistically significant lower levels of food security and dietary diversity than former and non-beneficiaries, possibly due to a lack of infrastructure and access to markets. These findings highlight the importance of participatory holistic planning for voluntary resettlement, particularly to ensure participant understanding of future living conditions, and ultimately challenge the utility of voluntary resettlement as a policy tool to improve the well-being of subsistence farmers.

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Risk Perceptions and Marine Spatial Planning Surrounding Tidal Energy in British Columbia (2016)

This thesis examines in-stream tidal energy (ISTE) generation technology and its potential for development, underwater within Discovery Passage, a narrow channel ocean environment near Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada. The study took place in the summer of 2014 and measured levels of support and opposition towards two separate investigative license (IL) ocean energy sites held by a BC developer. The primary approach was to interview expert marine stakeholders and First Nations persons based on their commercial, recreational and cultural usage of the Discovery Passage waterway and its foreshores near the ILs. The study measured subjects’ risk and benefit perceptions of the technology and the projects, levels of support for its development, willingness to pay for it, and any specific conflicts with the developments, both on and under the water. Interactive marine spatial planning (IMSP) and geographic information systems (GIS) were used to elicit respondents’ principle areas of marine usage within the study area, levels of value associated with these areas and seasons of usage. In addition, at the end of the interview, subjects were shown the IL sites on a map and were given the opportunity to indicate areas of perceived conflict between their organizations’ operations and the sites. Results found respondents to be initially strongly in favour of developing tidal energy in BC, with 88% indicating a high levels of support for its development and willingness to pay small amounts for it as part of BC Hydro’s rate increases. However, once the IL sites were shown to the interviewees specifically on a map, levels of support declined and specific opposition to the sites was identified amongst 72% of respondents, indicating highly localized risk perceptions towards the projects. Perceived risks identified by stakeholders included marine traffic interference stemming from installation operations, high costs, cumulative impacts of many turbine installations and tugboat towlines and fishing gear potentially snagging underwater turbines. Identified benefits of tidal energy included local reservoir water conservation from tidal energy generation displacing hydropower water use, local economic development, displacing regional area off-grid diesel generation and achieving more localized electrical generation on Vancouver Island.

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Maximizing Climate and health Benefits in Household Energy Carbon Credit Projects (2012)

‘Improved’ cooking technologies, which in general are cleaner burning with higher levels of complete combustion, greater efficiency and better heat transfer then less-efficient cooking technologies, have been generally understood in the global community to be a ‘win-win’ development intervention creating a multitude of benefits. Yet as in most environment-development efforts there are many unacknowledged tradeoffs that exist under the all-encompassing ‘win-win’ claims. In this study tradeoffs made between two co-benefits of cookstove projects, climate and health, are examined under the framework of carbon financing mechanisms. Two methodologies used to calculate carbon credits for cookstove projects are compared, the Gold Standard method and the Clean Development Mechanism method. Different carbon credit scenarios are evaluated for how they compare to estimated health impacts when switching from a traditional biomass stove to each of the other ten alternative stove-fuel combinations including three basic improved biomass stoves, two gasifying biomass stoves, two coal stoves, one charcoal stove and two liquid fossil fuel stoves. Tradeoffs between the maximization of co-benefits were found to exist, with carbon credits inherently accounting for climate benefits, but not health.The three stove types achieving the highest levels of co-benefits were the two liquid fossil fuel fueled stoves included in the analyses, kerosene and liquid petroleum gas, and a more technologically advanced gasifying biomass stove with a battery powered fan. Yet they were also the most expensive and the fossil fuel stoves were treated very differently in the two methodologies, creating a diffusion barrier to achieve the highest maximization of co-benefits.The Gold Standard methodology consistently calculated more carbon credits than the Clean Development Mechanism, largely due to its inclusion of methane emissions in its calculations. Including black carbon emissions in theoretical carbon credit calculations also significantly increased the number of credits calculated. If accounted for in such equations this could greatly increase the amount of income earned per project as well as change how such projects are designed and approached due to the large increase in potential credits calculated. As health and other development benefits are not inherently included in carbon credit calculations, in order to achieve ‘win-win’ outcomes, deliberate decisions about project design need to be made to ensure such objectives are actually met and not simply assumed.

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Can planting trees bring co-benefits? Smallholder tree planting for development and carbon mitigation (2010)

There has been a growing interest in land-use change and forestry activities for advancing the global goals of climate change mitigation and rural development. Because of its links to agriculture, the main livelihood activity of the rural poor in most developing countries, one particularly promising land-use is agroforestry, the use of land for both agricultural and silvicultural activities. The potential for agroforestry to deliver rural development and climate change mitigation benefits is well documented. There is considerable hope and expectation that agroforestry will be able realize co-benefits, where projects seek simultaneous goals of improving human welfare and mitigating climate change. However, it is less clear how and whether both goals might be accomplished in practice. Through an analytical literature review of rural development and carbon forestry literature, and a qualitative case study of participant experiences and understandings in smallholder tree planting initiatives in Uganda, this thesis explored the following overarching research questions:1. What are areas of likely tension and synergy when smallholder agroforestry projects in developing countries attempt to realize co-benefits for rural development and climate change mitigation?2. How should smallholder planting projects be designed to effectively maximize the delivery of benefits for both development and carbon goals?Both the case study and review of the literature suggest that projects seeking co-benefits from smallholder tree planting initiatives will encounter substantial tension between practices best suited to realizing development versus carbon benefits. These projects have considerable potential to fail in meeting expectations. Explicitly seeking ancillary benefits in projects that have primary goals of development or climate change mitigation may be a more effective way to more quickly expand the use of smallholder planting projects and attain both types of benefits, while concurrently providing opportunities to learn from experience and move towards the development of best practice for delivering returns for carbon and development on the ground. Alternative approaches to project design and pathways to deliver development benefits may be more appropriate in smallholder carbon projects to overcome expected tensions in projects attempting to deliver both development and climate benefits.

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