Karen O'Brien

Image of Karen O'Brien
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Phone +47 22858480
Mobile phone +47 90063814
Room 339
Visiting address Moltke Moes vei 31 Harriet Holters hus 0851 OSLO
Postal address Postboks 1096 Blindern 0317 OSLO
Other affiliations Department of Education (Student)

Academic Interests

Karen O'Brien is an internationally recognized expert on climate change and society, focusing on themes such as climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation including how climate change interacts with globalization processes and the implications for human security. She is interested in how transdisciplinary and integral approaches to global change research can contribute to a better understanding of how societies both create and respond to change, and particularly the role of beliefs, values and worldview in transformations to sustainability. She is passionate about what potential there is in quantum social theory and the implications for climate change responses. She currently leads a Norwegian Research Council Topforsk project called AdaptationCONNECTS (Adaptation: Combining Old and New kNowledge to Enable Conscious Transformation to Sustainability), that aims towards developing new understandings of whether and how transformations can contribute to successful adaptation to climate change. She has been heavily involved in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Global Change Programmes and the transition to Future Earth, a 10-year global change research initiative. She is the co-founder and partner in cCHANGE, an Oslo-based company.  cCHANGE is a beacon for individuals and organizations seeking a new perspective, inspiration, knowledge, and tools on climate change and sustainability transformations.


  • B.A. in International Relations at the College of William and Mary, 1985
  • M.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1990
  • Ph.D. in Geography at the Pennsylvania State University, 1995
  • Post-doc at the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), 1996
  • Senior Research Fellow at CICERO, 1997-2005
  • 20% position in the Department of Human Geography, 2001
  • Professor in Human Geography, 2005


  • 2020 Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa at Linköpings University (to be awarded in May 2021), Sweden
  • 2019 Award for Excellence in Research, Human Dimensions of Global Change Speciality Group, American Association of Geographers (AAG).
  • 2015 University of Oslo Student Parliament's Teaching Award
  • 2011 Burtoni Prize for Adaptation Research
  • 2008 AAG Meridian Book Award (with Robin Leichenko) for ”Environmental Change and Globalization: Double Exposures
  • Shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awared to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Positions Held

  • 2020 - Member of Scoping Group for IPBES Assessment Report on Transformative Change.
  • 2017 – 2019   Science Committee, Transformations 2018, Santiago, Chile. 
  • 2017 – 2019   Scientific Committee, Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation, Norrköping 2018, Sweden.  
  • 2016 – 2017    Science Committee, Transformations 2017: Transformations in Practice Conference, Dundee 2017.
  • 2014 – 2015    Science Committee, Our Common Future in a Changing Climate Conference, Paris 2015.
  • 2013 – 2015    Member of Science Committee, Future Earth.
  • 2012 – 2014    Transdisciplinary Advisory Board member, EU Joint Programming Initiative –Climate Change.
  • 2012 – 2014    Core Writing Team Member for the Synthesis Report (SYR), IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, and Topic 3 Co-Facilitator
  • 2012 – 2014    Author, Summary for Policy Makers, IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group II.
  • 2009 – 2014    Lead Author, IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group II, Chapter 20.
  • 2012 – 2014    Board Member, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo.
  • 2011 -- 2013    Chair of Working Group "Towards a Revolution in Education and Capacity Building" for ESF-COST Forward Look RESCUE Project
  • 2011– 2013     Member, Transition Team, 10-year Initiative on Earth System Science for Global Sustainability. Co-Chair of Working Group on “Research Vision”.
  • 2009 – 2012    Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 8 of the IPCC SREX report
Tags: Human geography, Environment, Climate change, Transformation, Social Change


Shrivastava, P., Stafford Smith, M., O’Brien, K., and Zsolnai, L. (2020). Transforming sustainability science to generate positive social and environmental change globally. One Earth 2(4): 329-340.

Leichenko, R. and K. O’Brien (2020) Teaching Climate Change in the “Anthropocene”: An Integrative Approach. Anthropocene 30: 100241.

Leichenko, R.M. and K.L. O’Brien 2019. Climate and Society: Transforming the Future. London: Polity Press.

Bentz, J. and K. O’Brien (2019). ART FOR CHANGE: Transformative learning and youth empowerment in a changing climate. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

O’Brien, K., Selboe, E. and B.M. Hayward. (2018) Exploring youth activism on climate change: dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent. Ecology and Society 23(3):42. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-10287-230342

O’Brien, K. (2018). Is the 1.5°C Target Possible? Exploring the Three Spheres of Transformation. Current Opinion in Sustainability 31: 153-160. 

O'Brien, K. (2016) Climate change and social transformations: Is it time for a quantum leap? WIREs Climate Change, 7(5): 618-626.

O’Brien, K. (2015) Political agency: The key to tackling climate change. Science, 350(6265): 1170- 1171.

O’Brien, K.L. and E. Selboe (eds) (2015) The Adaptive Challenge of Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Inderberg, T.H., S. Eriksen, K.L. O´Brien and L. Sygna (2015) Climate Change Adaptation and Development: Transforming Paradigms and Practices. London: Routledge.

O’Brien, K.L., L. Sygna and J. Wolf (eds) (2013) A Changing Environment for Human Security: Transformative Approaches to Research, Policy and Action. London: Earthscan.

O’ Brien, K.L., A. St. Clair, and B. Kristoffersen (eds) (2010) Climate Change, Ethics, and Human Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Matthews, R. A., J. Barnett, B. McDonald and K. L. O'Brien (eds) (2010) Global Environmental Change and Human Security, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

O´Brien, K. (2012) Global environmental change II. From adaptation to deliberate transformation. Progress in Human Geography 36(5): 667-676.

Leichenko, R.M. and K.L. O’Brien (2008) Environmental Change and Globalization: Double Exposures. New York: Oxford University Press

O’Brien, K.L. et al. (2007) Why different interpretations of vulnerability matter in climate change discourses. Climate Policy 7: 73-88.

O’Brien, K. et al. (2004) Mapping vulnerability to multiple stressors: Climate change and economic globalization in IndiaGlobal Environmental Change 14(4): 303-313.

O’Brien, K.L., L. Sygna and J.E. Haugen (2004) Vulnerable or resilient? A multi-scale assessment of climate impacts and vulnerability in NorwayClimatic Change 64: 193-225.

Leichenko, R. and K. O’Brien (2002) The dynamics of rural vulnerability to global change: The case of Southern AfricaMitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 7: 1-18.

O’Brien, K. and R. Leichenko (2000) Double exposure: Assessing the impacts of climate change within the context of economic globalizationGlobal Environmental Change 10(3): 221-232.

  • Fazey, Ioan; Schäpke, Niko; Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø; Caniglia, Guido; O'Brien, Karen; Hodgson, Anthony; Kendrick, Ian; Scoville-Simonds, Morgan; Gram-Hanssen, Irmelin; Amundsen, Helene; Grandin, Jakob; Dannevig, Halvor; Grenni, Sara; Gunnell, Jade Lauren; Gusmao, Felipe; Hamann, Maike; Harding, Brian; Harper, Gavin; Hesselgren, Mia; Hestad, Dina; Heykoop, Cheryl Anne; Holmén, Johan; Holstead, Kirsty; Hoolohan, Claire; Horcea-Milcu, Andra-Ioana; Horlings, Lummina Geertruida; Howden, Stuart Mark; Howell, Rachel Angharad; Huque, Sarah Insia; Inturias Canedo, Mirna Liz; Preiser, Rika; Rahman, Sajidur; Reed, Mark S.; Revell, Philip; Rodriguez, Iokiñe; Rogers, Briony Cathryn; Rohr, Jascha; Ross, Helen; Russell, Shona & Young, Hannah R. (2020). Transforming knowledge systems for life on Earth: Visions of future systems and how to get there. Energy Research & Social Science.  ISSN 2214-6296. . doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2020.101724 Full text in Research Archive. Show summary
  • Leichenko, Robin M. & O'Brien, Karen (2020). Teaching climate change in the Anthropocene: An integrative approach. Anthropocene.  ISSN 2213-3054.  30:100241, s 1- 4 . doi: 10.1016/j.ancene.2020.100241 Full text in Research Archive. Show summary
  • Shrivastava, Paul; Stafford Smith, Mark; O'Brien, Karen & Szolnai, Laszlo (2020). Transforming Sustainability Science to Generate Positive Social and Environmental Change Globally. One Earth.  ISSN 2590-3330.  2(4), s 329- 340 . doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2020.04.010 Full text in Research Archive. Show summary
  • Bentz, Julia & O'Brien, Karen (2019). ART FOR CHANGE: Transformative learning and youth empowerment in a changing climate. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.  ISSN 2325-1026.  7 Show summary
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Towards an Integrative Discourse on Climate Change. Dialogues in Human Geography.  ISSN 2043-8206.  9(1), s 33- 37 . doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2043820619829933
  • O'Brien, Karen & Leichenko, Robin M. (2019). Towards an Integrative Discourse on Climate Change. Dialogues in Human Geography.  ISSN 2043-8206.  9(1), s 33- 37 . doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2043820619829933 Full text in Research Archive.
  • Van der Merwe, S.; Biggs, R.; Preiser, R.; Cunningham, C.; Snowden, D.J.; O'Brien, Karen; Jenal, M.; Vosloo, M.; Blignaut, S. & Goh, Z. (2019). Making Sense of Complexity: Using SenseMaker as a Research Tool. Systems.  ISSN 2079-8954.  7(2)
  • Fazey, Ioan; Schäpke, Niko; Caniglia, Guido; Patterson, James; Hultman, Johan; van Mierlo, Barbara; Säwe, Filippa; Wiek, Arnim; Wittmayer, Julia; Aldunce, Paulina; Al Waer, Husam; Battacharya, Nandini; Bradbury, Hilary; Carmen, Esther; Colvin, John; Cvitanovic, Christopher; D'Souza, Marcella; Gopel, Maja; Goldstein, Bruce; Hämäläinen, Timo; Harper, Gavin; Henfry, Tom; Hodgson, Anthony; Howden, Mark S.; Kerr, Andy; Klaes, Matthias; Lyon, Christopher; Midgley, Gerald; Moser, Susanne; Mukherjee, Nandan; Müller, Karl; O'Brien, Karen; O'Connell, Deborah A.; Olsson, Per; Page, Glenn; Reed, Mark S.; Searle, Beverley; Silvestri, Giorgia; Spaiser, Viktoria; Strasser, Tim; Tschakert, Petra; Uribe-Calvo, Natalia; Waddell, Steve; Rao-Williams, Jennifer; Wise, Russell; Wolstenholme, Ruth; Woods, Mel & Wyborn, Carina (2018). Ten essentials for action-oriented and second order energy transitions, transformations and climate change research. Energy Research & Social Science.  ISSN 2214-6296.  40, s 54- 70 . doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2017.11.026 Full text in Research Archive.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2018). Is the 1.5?C target possible? Exploring the three spheres of transformation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.  ISSN 1877-3435.  31, s 153- 160 . doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2018.04.010 Full text in Research Archive.
  • O'Brien, Karen; Selboe, Elin & Hayward, Bronwyn (2018). Exploring youth activism on climate change: Dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent. Ecology & Society.  ISSN 1708-3087.  23(3) . doi: 10.5751/ES-10287-230342
  • Fazey, Ioan; Moug, Peter; Allen, Simon; Beckmann, Kate; Blackwood, David; Bonaventura, Mike; Burnett, Kathryn; Danson, Mike; Falconer, Ruth; Gagnon, Alexandre S.; Harkness, Rachel; Hodgson, Anthony; Holm, Lorents; Irvine, Katherine N.; Low, Ragne; Lyon, Christopher; Moss, Anna; Moran, Clare; Naylor, Larissa; O'Brien, Karen; Russell, Shona; Skerratt, Sarah; Rao-Williams, Jennifer & Wolstenholme, Ruth (2017). Transformation in a changing climate: a research agenda. Climate and Development.  ISSN 1756-5529.  10(3), s 197- 217 . doi: 10.1080/17565529.2017.1301864 Full text in Research Archive.

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  • Leichenko, Robin M. & O'Brien, Karen (2019). Climate and Society: Transforming the Future. Polity Press.  ISBN 9780745684383.  250 s.
  • O'Brien, Karen; El Khoury, Ann; Schafenacker, Nicole & Rosenfeld, Jordan (ed.) (2019). Our Entangled Future: Stories to Empower Quantum Social Change. AdaptationCONNECTS.  ISBN 978-82-691819-2-0.  161 s.

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  • Daszak, Peter; Amuasi, John; Das Neves, Carlos G; Hayman, David; Kuiken, Thijs; Roche, Benjamin; Zambrana-Torrelio, Carlos; Buss, Peter; Dundarova, Heliana; Feferholtz, Yasha; Foldvari, Gabor; Igbinosa, Etinosa; Junglen, Sandra; Liu, Qiyong; Suzan, Gerardo; Uhart, Marcela; Wannous, Chadia; Woolaston, Katie; Mosig Reidl, Paola; O'Brien, Karen; Pascual, Unai; Stoett, Peter; Li, Hongying & Ngo, Hien (2020). IPBES (2020) Workshop Report on Biodiversity and Pandemics of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Show summary
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Agency Matters.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Education for Transformation: The significance of paradigms, politics, and practices.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Education for Transformation: Whose Values and Visions are Shaping the Future?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Education for transformation: Aligning values and visions for a sustainable future.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). En helhetlig tilnærming til mobilitetsomstilling: Det handler om transformasjon.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020, 15. mai). Forskere mener vi ikke lenger kan stole på at teknologien skal redde klimaet. [Internett].  Forskning.no.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Fractals Matter.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). It’s a Relationship Problem: Addressing Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, Inequality, and Global Pandemics.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Quantum Social Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Taking the Climate Crisis Seriously: Three Spheres of Transformation.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). The Adaptive Challenge of Sustainable Development: Looking beyond a purely technical approach.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). The Decade that Matters: Taking Transformations to Climate Change and Transformations to Sustainability Seriously.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Transformational Leadership for Sustainability.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Transformative Change at a Global Scale: From Understanding to Action.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Transforming the Future.
  • Bradbury, Hilary; Waddell, Steve; O'Brien, Karen; Apgar, Marina; Teehankee, Ben & Fazey, Ioan (2019). A call to Action Research for Transformations: The times demand it. Action research.  ISSN 1476-7503.  17(1), s 3- 10 . doi: 10.1177/1476750319829633
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Climate Change and Societal Transformation.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Climate Change and Society: Transforming the Future.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Climate Change as a Relationship Problem.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Climate Change: It’s a Relationship Problem.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Climate Change: It’s a Relationship Problem.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Confronting the Challenge of Change: Bærekraftig Utvikling, Medborgerskap og Livsmestring.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Contributing to social change: A researcher’s perspective.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Creative Transformations: Realizing our Potential for Quantum Social Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Education for transformation: Whose values and visions are shaping the future?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019, 25. oktober). For lite miljø på exphil-pensum.  Uniforum.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). How do we transform systems?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Investing in climate action: The power of perspectives.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019, 26. september). Kostnaden ved å gjøre ingenting: «200 millioner mennesker vil trenge nødhjelp årlig». [Fagblad].  Bistandsaktuelt.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Our Entangled Future: Stories to Empower Quantum Social Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). People as the most powerful solution for sustainability.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Quantum Social Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Quantum Social Change: You matter more than you think.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Quantum Social Change: You matter more than you think.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Science and Entrepreneurship.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Systems change: You matter more than you think.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Taking climate change and transformations to sustainability seriously, In James Meadowcroft; David Banister; Erling Holden; Oluf Langhelle; Kristin Linnerud & Geoffrey Gilpin (ed.),  What Next for Sustainable Development? Our Common Future at Thirty.  Edward Elgar Publishing.  ISBN 9781788975193.  Chapter 11.  s 200 - 218
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). The Challenge of (climate) Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). The Challenge of (climate) Change: Engasjement Nedenfra eller Toppstyrt?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). The Challenge of Conscious Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019, 25. juli). The Most Powerful Solution to Climate Change. [Internett].  The Regen Narration.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). The Personal Sphere of Transformation.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Transformational Change: What does it mean for Chile’s long-term decarbonization and adaptation strategies?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Transformational Leadership for Sustainability.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Transformative Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Transforming the Future: The World of beauty in a changing climate.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Ungdoms rolle i en bærekraftig fremtid: Hvordan skaper vi endring?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). What is our potential for change?.
  • O'Brien, Karen; El Khoury, Ann; Schafenacker, Nicole & Rosenfeld, Jordan (2019). Stories of Quantum Social Change, In Karen O'Brien; Ann El Khoury; Nicole Schafenacker & Jordan Rosenfeld (ed.),  Our Entangled Future: Stories to Empower Quantum Social Change.  AdaptationCONNECTS.  ISBN 978-82-691819-2-0.  Introduction.  s 1 - 13
  • O'Brien, Karen; Hochachka, Gail & Gram-Hanssen, Irmelin (2019). Creating a Culture for Transformation, In Guiseppe Feola; Hilary Geoghegen & Alex Arnall (ed.),  Climate and Culture : Multidisciplinary Perspectives on a Warming World.  Cambridge University Press.  ISBN 9781108422505.  12.  s 266 - 290
  • O'Brien, Karen & Leichenko, Robin M. (2019). Climate and Society: Transforming the Future.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Leichenko, Robin M. (2019). Teaching Transformation: Fostering Integrative Understanding of Climate and Society.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Schorre, Ann Kristin (2019). Ildsjel, In Matthew Schneider-Mayerson & Brent Ryan Bellamy (ed.),  An Ecotopian Lexicon.  University of Minnesota Press.  ISBN 978-1-5179-0590-3.  Chapter 12.
  • Scoville-Simonds, Morgan & O'Brien, Karen (2018). Vulnerability, In Noel Castree; Mike Hulme & James D. Proctor (ed.),  Companion to Environmental Studies.  Routledge.  ISBN 9781138192201.  Chapter.  s 127 - 135
  • Klinsky, Sonja; Roberts, Timmons; Huq, Saleemul; Okereke, Chukwumerije; Newell, Peter; Dauvergne, Peter; O'Brien, Karen; Schroeder, Heike; Tschakert, Petra; Clapp, Jennifer; Keck, Margaret; Biermann, Frank; Liverman, Diana; Gupta, Joyeeta; Rahman, Atiq; Messner, Dirk; Pellow, David & Bauer, Steffen (2017). Why equity is fundamental in climate change policy research. Global Environmental Change.  ISSN 0959-3780.  44, s 170- 173 . doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.08.002
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). "Adaptation through Transformation: Expanding the discourse on climate change responses".
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). "Adaptation throught transformation.".
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). AdaptationCONNECTS: Transforming the Adaptation Discourse.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). An extraordinary view: Sustainable development through a Quantum Social Lens..
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Climate Change and Transformations to Sustainability.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). "Climate change adaptation: Is it time for Transformation?".
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Climate change: It's a relationship problem!.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Collaborative power for Societal Transformation.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Engaging and empowering youth with solutions to climate change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Forandring er mulig!.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Hitting the 1.5C Target:It's not just a carbon problem!.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). "How do we respond to climate change?".
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Is the 1.5C Target Possible? Exploring the Dynamics of Deliberate Social Transformation.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). It's all about CHANGE! Transformation in a changing climate..
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Jeg vil høre havet.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Let's talk about Climate Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Let's talk about climate change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Let's talk about climate change..
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Participant at panel discussion: Møt FNs klimapanel – 10 år etter fredsprisen.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Shifting Paradigms: The potential for Quantum Social Change..
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Taking Systems Change Seriously-A Call to Action.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Taking a stand for (social) science.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). The Challenge of Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). "The Challenge of Change".
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). The Value(s) of Narratives.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Transformations in Socio-Ecological Systems.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). WOMad Planet Talk.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). We can change? How beliefs shape our world- and how they can transform our world.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). "What is "Transformation" and why is understanding its qualities important?".
  • O'Brien, Karen (2017). Where are transformations currently happening? Problems and Promises.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Høeg, Elida (2017, 29. september). Tekniske løsninger er ikke nok.  Morgenbladet.

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Published Oct. 11, 2010 2:03 PM - Last modified Aug. 20, 2020 10:42 PM