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PD Dr. habil. Ilona M. Otto

Research Domain I
Earth System Analysis

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
Telegrafenberg A56/0.13, 14473 Potsdam
Phone: +49-(0)331-288-2667

Current research interest:

  • Human agency
  • Social tipping and non-linear changes in socio-economic systems
  • Environmental inequalities
  • Cascading climate risks

Ilona M. Otto specializes in institutional and political economy, having graduated with a masters in sociology and obtained a PhD in resource economics. In her most recent research, she analyzes social tipping dynamics for the stabilization of the Earth’s climate as well as the implications and implementation of human agency for modeling human-environmental system interactions. She also analyzes environmental inequalities and the socio-metabolic implications of resource and energy, used to support lifestyles of different social groups.

In her previous research she investigated the socio-economic impacts of climate change along with the adaption to climate extremes. She was the lead author of the Central Asia Chapter in the 2013 World Bank Report - Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal, and the lead author of the Human Health Chapter in the 2012 World Bank Report - Turn Down the Heat: Why 4˚C Warmer World Should be Avoided. She also led the socio-economic research in the project on Sustainable Water and Agricultural Land Use in the Guanting Basin, Northern China. In her early post-doc research she was a Marie Curie Program fellow investigating the governance of water and biodiversity in the enlarged EU and in her PhD research she analyzed the factors which improve cooperation in agricultural markets.

Ilona has broad experience in quantitative and qualitative research methods and empirical data collection. She has carried out social surveys and behavioral experiments, as well as expert elicitations and case study research. She is an Affiliated Scholar at the Resource Economics Group at the Humboldt University in Berlin and she also contributes to two teaching modules taught within the Integrated Master of Natural Resource Management degree program coordinated by the Resource Economics Group. The teaching modules include Climate and Energy Management and Advanced Empirical Methodology for Social-Ecological System Analysis. She is also an Associated Fellow at the Berlin Workshop in Institutional Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems (WINS) hosted by IRI-THESys Institute at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Ilona is also involved in science-art projects such as the Anthropology for Kids Project. Occasionally she gives talks about climate change impacts and sustainability transformation to businesses and other stakeholder groups as well as to school children and young people.


Examples of press coverage: My research on life-style carbon emissions was reported by e.g. CNN News, New York Times, The Conversation  My research on social tipping was reported by e.g. Der Spiegel, Die Welt, New York Times

Google Scholar Profile

Research Gate



Climate and Energy Management

Advanced Empirical Methodology for Social-Ecological Systems Analysis

Current projects:

2019-2023 - CASCADES: Cascading Climate Risks: Towards Adaptive and Resilient European Societies (Horizon 2020), PI, Project Co-coordinator

2017-2020 - Erasmus+ Jean-Monet Module: Instruments of the EU Environmental Policy, Lecturer

Finalized projects:

2014 - WaterLab: River Basin Management Games Supporting Adaptation to Climate Change and Public Participation in Water Policy (National Natural Science Foundation, China), PI

2014 - Modelling Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty (The World Bank), Co-PI

2012-2014 - Turn Down the Heat Report Series (The World Bank), Human Health and Central Asia and Europe chapters lead author

2010-2013 - Guanting: Sustainable Water and Agricultural Land Use in the Guanting Watershed under Limited Water Availability (German Ministry of Education and Research, Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology), Post-doctoral researcher

2007-2010 - GoverNat: Multilevel Governance of Natural Resources. Tools and processes for Water and Biodiversity Governance in Europe (EU 5th Framework Program), Post-doctoral researcher

2006-2009 - ADAM: Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies Supporting European Climate Policy (EU 6th Framework Program), Junior researcher

2003-2006 - IDARI: Integrated Development of Agriculture and Rural Institutions (EU 5th Framework Program), PhD student

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