Focus areas: environmental and natural resource economics, climate change, carbon markets, carbon pricing, international climate policy, conservation policy, econometric analysis of land-use change, economics of tropical deforestation, reducing emissions from deforestation, and forest degradation (REDD+).

Ruben Lubowski teaches environmental and natural resource economics, with a focus on carbon pricing policies.  He specializes on carbon market design, the economics of land-use change, and incentive-based policies and financing approaches to reduce deforestation and other land-based emissions.  He is the Chief Natural Resource Economist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group working to find pragmatic science-based solutions to environmental problems.  He overseas research efforts on climate policy and works with researchers and policy practitioners around the world to apply economic analysis to help design and implement strategies to conserve forests, promote sustainable agriculture, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Lubowski was a lead author of the World Bank and International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP) handbook on emissions trading system design, which policymakers in various countries are using to develop carbon market programs.  He has provided expert testimony at Congressional and regulatory hearings and briefings in the US and overseas, and is invited often to serve on technical advisory groups and speak to diverse audiences worldwide.  In addition to his teaching at Columbia, he has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. 

He has served as an economist and land-use expert at the United States Department of Agriculture.  He also developed and managed environmental projects in Latin America at the United Nations Development Program.  He conducted research at the World Bank and the Harvard Institute for International Development, including a two-year study in Sri Lanka to quantify the contribution of tropical forest products to the livelihoods of rainforest communities.

Lubowski received his Ph.D. and master’s degree in Political Economy and Government as well as his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.

Research & Publications

August 2017|Ecological Economics|Ruben Lubowski, Alexander Golub, Pedro Piris-Cabezas

Progressively adjusting climate policies will entail adjustment costs for society. This paper develops a conceptual model and numerical example that illustrate the risk associated with exposure to the high costs of complying with future emissions controls and how this risks trades off against that from potentially premature investment into abatement. We then highlight the potentially unique role of tropical forest protection in helping to manage these risks by providing a cost-effective “buffer” of near term emissions reductions at a globally significant scale. This buffer would provide insurance against the risk of suddenly tightening targets, as well as providing other critical environmental benefits. We further examine how a version of a private finance instrument in the form of long-dated ‘call’ options on verified reductions in emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (i.e. REDD +) can help to operationalize this risk-hedging buffer creation. Options on REDD + could aid both regulated businesses and tropical nations to manage their respective risks. REDD + options could deliver sufficient abatement to significantly hedge exposure of regulated entities to potential corrections in climate policy while channeling financial resources to defer deforestation even as climate policies continue to evolve.

June 2017|Climate Policy|Ruben Lubowski, Alexander Golub, Sabine Fuss, Jake Hiller, Nikolay Khabarov, Nicolas Koch, Andrey Krasovskii, Florian Kraxner, Timothy Laing, Michael Obersteiner, Charles Palmer, Pedro Piris-Cabezas, Wolf Heinrich Reuter, Jana Szolgayová, Luca Taschini, Johanna Wehkamp

Climate policy uncertainty significantly hinders investments in low-carbon technologies, and the global community is behind schedule to curb carbon emissions. Strong actions will be necessary to limit the increase in global temperatures, and continued delays create risks of escalating climate change damages and future policy costs. These risks are system-wide, long-term and large-scale and thus hard to diversify across firms. Because of its unique scale, cost structure and near-term availability, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries (REDD+) has significant potential to help manage climate policy risks and facilitate the transition to lower greenhouse gas emissions. ‘Call’ options contracts in the form of the right but not the obligation to buy high-quality emissions reduction credits from jurisdictional REDD+ programmes at a predetermined price per ton of CO2 could help unlock this potential despite the current lack of carbon markets that accept REDD+ for compliance. This approach could provide a globally important cost-containment mechanism and insurance for firms against higher future carbon prices, while channelling finance to avoid deforestation until policy uncertainties decline and carbon markets scale up.

August 2016|The World Bank|Ruben Lubowski, World Bank Partnership for Market Readiness and International Carbon Action Partnership

As the world moves on from the climate agreement negotiated in Paris, attention is turning from the identification of emissions reduction trajectories—in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)—to crucial questions about how these emissions reductions are to be delivered and reported within the future international accounting framework. The experience to date shows that, if well designed, emissions trading systems (ETS) can be an effective, credible, and transparent tool for helping to achieve low-cost emissions reductions in ways that mobilize private sector actors, attract investment, and encourage international cooperation. However, to maximize effectiveness, any ETS needs to be designed in a way that is appropriate to its context. This Handbook is intended to help decision makers, policy practitioners, and stakeholders achieve this goal. It explains the rationale for an ETS, and sets out a 10-step process for designing an ETS – each step involves a series of decisions or actions that will shape major features of the policy. In doing so, it draws both on conceptual analysis and on some of the most important practical lessons learned to date from implementing ETSs around the world, including from the European Union, several provinces and cities in China, California and Québec, the Northeastern United States, Alberta, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Tokyo, and Saitama.