Climate Change Leadership – MOOC


Opportunities for change – from mitigation and adaptation to transformation

In this video, Karen O’Brien, professor in human geography at University of Oslo, discusses deliberate transformations as an approach to climate change, and what that means for climate change leadership.

O’Brien’s argument builds on a distinction between adaptation, mitigation and transformation as approaches to meet climate change. Whereas adaptation means to prepare for experienced or anticipated climate effect, mitigation means decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate risk. Transformations refer to deeper changes that “address the root causes of the problem and not just the consequences”.

O’Brien notes that meeting the Paris Agreement calls for transformations that go beyond technical fixes:

The 1.5° target from the Paris Agreement is a real challenge for society. The types of transformations that we need are going to have to be much more than than technical fixes that are adress carbon emissions from energy. They have to be wider and deeper, and include social changes that reduce vulnerability but also allow us to adress not just the climate issue but many other human-environment relationships and issues.

While we are currently transforming the planet on an unprecedented scale, O’Brien notes that deliberate transformations means reflection and social conversations about which future we want to create together:

Deliberate transformations are really reflective, based on a holistic perspective and based on the idea that we can really change the change, we can actually move in a different direction. […] We can actually create a different future.

This has implications for leadership:

The real leadership really comes when people start questioning their own assumptions, when they question what is given and why does it have to be this way. And I see more and more people who are stepping forward, taking the lead on climate change and who would perhaps not traditionally been thought of as leaders or think of themselves as leaders. But they are the ones who really are leading the transformations.


© Karen O’Brien, CEMUS and Uppsala University