karen bakker


How can the tools of the Digital Age be mobilized to solve our most pressing environmental challenges?

Trained as both a natural and social scientist, I regularly collaborate with engineers, natural and medical scientists on interdisciplinary analyses of environmental governance and sustainability, focusing on fresh water issues. Working across disciplines is sometimes enlightening, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately well worth it. In fact, I believe it’s essential.

At UBC, I am the Director of the Program on Water Governance at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability.

Many of my students have interdisciplinary backgrounds; most do interdisciplinary research. I’ve had the privilege to work with amazing students and staff, some of whom are listed here.

Some of my research takes place in Canada, but I continue to do international fieldwork, as do many of my students. My newest project focuses on the intersection of digital transformation and environmental governance:  smartearthproject.com.

I am a member of the Board of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Council of Canadian Academies. I have been a recipient of Stanford University’s Annenberg Fellowship in Communication, Stanford University’s Cox Visiting Professorship, a SSHRC Impact Award, and a Killam Faculty Research Award. I am also a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow and a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Fluent in French and Spanish, I have conducted fieldwork in over a dozen countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. I regularly act as an advisor and consultant for international organizations and was named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 in 2011.

I’m a passionate believer in academic engagement in public and policy debates. So I regularly advise governments, think tanks, and international organizations. Recent examples include authoring a report on water governance for the OECD’s Territorial Review of water governance in Venice, participation in a United Nations-led Expert Consultation on the human right to water, and advising the Canadian government on delegated (or ‘shared’) water governance strategies. My writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Globe and Mail and Dissent.

In 2022-2023 I will be on sabbatical leave at Harvard, as a Harvard Radcliffe Fellow
Harvard Radcliffe Institute Announces 2022–2023 Fellows
Harvard Radcliffe Fellows

Privileged to live in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, I try to live by the adage that those who have much, should give much, in both big and little ways. A believer in the power of community activism and the importance of community service, I volunteer with several organizations and am involved in the food politics movement. In my personal life, I’m a gardener, and a year-round cyclist (admittedly easier than in most parts of Canada). Last but not least, I have two beautiful daughters and an inspiring husband who keep me busy (and humble).

Teaching: Courses

I teach three courses (and between 200 and 250 students) per year, on a range of environmental, resource management, and sustainability issues.

Past Courses

Urban Water 201x (free online course on the Harvard/MIT edX platform)

Environmental Geography – Geography 514

Seminar: Water Governance and Policy – Geography 412

Environment & Sustainability – Geography 310

More about me, here