The climate crisis is a global emergency – from rising temperatures to changes in weather patterns, the world is feeling the impacts of climate change. 

The United Nations Population Fund has argued that poor and vulnerable populations are the most impacted by climate change, as they often lack the resources needed to adapt. These populations are disproportionately impacted and climate solutions at the global scale need to be modified to meet these needs. Recent flooding in Pakistan displaced more than 30 million people – this is just a sign of the severity of the climate crisis as weather patterns change. “Humanity’s basic right to life is being threatened by insufficient action in the face of the climate emergency,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in a recent news release.

UBC was recently ranked first in Canada for its social impact and second for environmental impact, in part due to its Climate Emergency action, and the Climate Action Plan 2030 (CAP 2030). The goals of CAP 2030 are to reduce emissions, but also to provide tools for the community such as carshares, bike shares and electric vehicle charging stations. The university as a whole is making an effort to prioritize the environment not only in education, but in action.

UBC’s graduate students and scholars are at the forefront of research and activism to support the climate crisis.

Rivkah Gardner-Frolick, PhD candidate, Mechanical Engineering 

Rivkah is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Mechanical Engineering program. Her current research looks at air quality modelling and how it can disproportionately impact members of disadvantaged groups. As a Public Scholar, her work is done for the public good, or research that “showcases the value that research can have in peoples’ everyday lives. To me, this means that I can apply and see the value of the technical tools I develop in my PhD research in the real world.” 

By analyzing data, she is able to identify neighborhood pollution “hotspots.” “It can give you real-time scenarios of intra-neighbourhood differences,” says Rivkah. As part of her work with Vancouver’s Strathcona residents’ association, she is deploying sensors for air quality. 

“When you look at how cities developed over time, and the underlying systems of inequality, it still influences how we are exposed to air pollution today.” 

Residents of Strathcona are more likely to come from a low-income household, and to identify as Indigenous. Their close proximity to the Port of Vancouver shipping terminals means they have increased exposure to air pollution from ships, trucks, rail traffic and roadways nearby. More people in the community of Strathcona are likely to have other lingering health conditions, from chronic breathing conditions to diabetes, as compared to the rest of the city. 

This thinking about air quality patterns stemmed from her work as an undergraduate at Rice University, where she first learned about environmental justice. While there, she volunteered as a Team Lead for NGO Engineers Without Borders for a water distribution project in Nicaragua. With groundwater levels not as high as they used to be, the local community was forced to source water from alternate locations – the NGO group helped the community over the course of several years. 

For society to make the most impact with the climate crisis, Rivkah suggests Systems Thinking – a way of looking a complex topic as the whole and its relationships, instead of breaking it into small parts, such as focusing solely on water availability, or recycling. “We need to ensure we are looking at all these issues together, and cohesively studying these systems so that we don’t fall back into old patterns.” 

Justice should be front of mind, with academic research contributing to policy development at the local and national level.  


Recent Public Scholars Initiative graduate Dr. Verónica Relaño-Ecija, and graduate Students Gideon Berry (Master’s student, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Rudri Bhatt (PhD student, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability) are part of the University’s delegation to COP27 - the 27th Conference of the Parties. The United Nations climate change conference takes place from November 6 to 18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The conference will review the status of the Paris Agreement, a global commitment to keep the rise in mean global temperature to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels. In addition to the Paris Agreement, leaders from around the globe will discuss how to reduce the effects of climate change and make recommendations.


Verónica Relaño-Ecija, PhD researcher, institute for oceans and fisheries

Verónica Relaño-Ecija is a UBC Public Scholars Initiative recipient, working to educate the public about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). As part of her PhD work, she developed a documentary. She wanted to improve the collaboration between communities and organizations and knew that a journal article wouldn’t be the best way to achieve that goal. 

“The questions for me were ‘How to start a conversation?’ and ‘How to raise awareness among stakeholders that the inadequate management of the area is incurring big ecological and social costs?’” says Verónica. 

The solution was to conduct research and stakeholder interviews with fishermen, industry advocates, tourism organizations, NGOs and more, and edit the interviews into a documentary for kids and adults. The video is a starting point for conversation, and an entry-point into advocacy and education. “The idea is not just to produce a documentary, but I will also tour, screen and discuss it at different locations in Argentia and beyond,” says Verónica. “This will bring everyone closer to the reality of ‘paper MPA’s and help find more integrated solutions.”

She is now a lead on the Somos OceanoS (SOS 2030) project, which communicates to the wider public about climate injustice and marine conservation. Somos OceanoS promotes the perspectives of coastal communities on marine ecosystem management, to address problems and solutions, and to create better, healthier seas for all. 

“We all need to understand that we are on the same planet, in the same boat. If our neighbors in the South Pacific are suffering from floods and food insecurity, we do also! Governments have to admit that we need a change in regulations, enforcement and socio-economic behaviors. We can't take 30 years more to act, by then the boat will have sunk.” 


Monday, 07 November 2022