Karen O'Brien

Image of Karen O'Brien
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Phone +47 22858480
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Visiting address Moltke Moes vei 31 Harriet Holters hus 0851 OSLO
Postal address Postboks 1096 Blindern 0317 OSLO

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


  • 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

  • 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


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.

  • 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.
  • Selboe, Elin; Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite & O'Brien, Karen (2017). Klima- og samfunnsendringer, I: David Christoffer Jordhus-Lier & Kristian Stokke (red.),  Samfunnsgeografi: En innføring.  Cappelen Damm Akademisk.  ISBN 9788202547752.  22.  s 305 - 316
  • Bai, Xuemei; van der Leeuw, Sander; O'Brien, Karen; Berkhout, Frans; Biermann, Frank; Brondizio, Eduardo S.; Cudennec, Christophe; Dearing, John; Duraiappah, Anantha; Glaser, Marion; Revkin, Andrew; Steffen, Will & Syvitski, James (2016). Plausible and desirable futures in the Anthropocene: A new research agenda. Global Environmental Change.  ISSN 0959-3780.  39, s 351- 362 . doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.09.017
  • Brondizio, Eduardo S.; O'Brien, Karen; Bai, Xuemei; Biermann, Frank; Steffen, Will; Berkhout, Frans; Cudennec, Christophe; Lemos, Maria Carmen; Wolfe, Alexander; Palma-Oliveira, Jose & Chen, Chen-Tung Arthur (2016). Re-conceptualizing the Anthropocene: A call for collaboration. Global Environmental Change.  ISSN 0959-3780.  39, s 318- 327 . doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.02.006
  • Carter, Timothy R.; Fronzek, Stefan; Inkinen, Aino; Lahtinen, Ismo; Lahtinen, Matti; Mela, Hanna; O'Brien, Karen; Rosentrater, Lynn D.; Ruuhela, Reija; Simonsson, Louise & Terama, Emma (2016). Characterising vulnerability of the elderly to climate change in the Nordic region. Regional Environmental Change.  ISSN 1436-3798. . doi: 10.1007/s10113-014-0688-7
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Climate change and social transformations: is it time for a quantum leap?. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change (WIRESs).  ISSN 1757-7780.  7(5), s 618- 626 . doi: 10.1002/wcc.413

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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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  • 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: 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). Investing in climate action: The power of perspectives.
  • 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). 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; 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.  Chapter 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.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Lokna, Maria (2017, 14. august). Kunsten å forstå klima.  Klassekampen.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Nickelsen, Trine (2017, 01. januar). Hvordan kan en grønnere verden bli mulig?. [Tidsskrift].  Apollon.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2017). Forskningstorget stand: Hva er viktig for deg? Kaffe, kakao og klima..
  • O'Brien, Karen & Pawar, Yogesh (2017, 10. september). Mentoring the Mentors. [Internett].  DNA News and Analysis.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Pileberg, Silje (2017, 03. februar). – Samfunnsendringer starter i det små. [Internett].  Forskning.no.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Pileberg, Silje (2017, 03. februar). Karen O’Brien: We need major global systemic change. [Internett].  UiO.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Scoville-Simmonds, Morgan (2017). The pitfalls of mainstreaming: Lessons from "Adaptation-as-development"..
  • O'Brien, Karen; Selboe, Elin & Bronwyn, Hayward (2017). "Responding to climate change:widening the spaces for youth dissent".
  • O'Brien, Karen & Sunnanå, Arnhild (2017, 17. august). Pen plen – en ørken på våre friområder?.  Stavanger Aftenblad.
  • Andersen, Ole Kristian Mørch; O'Brien, Karen & Hauge, Åshild Lappegard (2016). Flomforvaltningens møte med klimaendringer. Erfaringer fra en perifer kommune i Oppland.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Adaptation through Transformation: Can Future Earth make a difference?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Climate Change and Transformations to Sustainability: Why People Matter!.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Climate Change: Transforming the Future..
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Climate Change: What’s the Story?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Communications for a green transition in Europe.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016, 03. september). Den fjerde nordiske klimatilpasningskonferansen “From Research to Action and Transformation”. [Internett].  http://www.bjerknes.uib.no/.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Diving Deeper: What do we really mean by integrated research on oceans?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). From theory to practice: What quantum social theory means for collaboration..
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Future Earth: Can we co-design and co-produce transformations to sustainability?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Future Earth: Co-design and co-production of research for sustainability.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Future Earth: Transformations Knowledge Action Network.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016, 12. desember). Interview with Karen O'Brien.. [Internett].  Stories of Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016, 05. august). Klimaforsker i krisetid.  Klassekampen.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Responding to climate change: Is it time for a quantum leap?.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Response. Science.  ISSN 0036-8075.  351(6271), s 349 . doi: 10.1126/science.351.6271.349
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). The Science and Politics of Climate Change.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Transformations to Sustainability..
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Traveling in a Changing Climate: "It's a small world (after all)". Tvergastein : interdisciplinary journal of the environment.  8, s 8- 15
  • O'Brien, Karen (2016). Trenger vi humaniora og samfunnsfag i det grønne skiftet?.
  • O'Brien, Karen; Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite & Aasheim, Annette (2016, 29. desember). Hvor vanskelig kan det være å bli et bedre menneske?.  A-Magasinet i Aftenposten.
  • O'Brien, Karen & Skjong, Hans (2016, 30. desember). Komfort trumfer klima.  Dagsavisen.

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Published Oct. 11, 2010 2:03 PM - Last modified Oct. 11, 2018 12:50 PM