February 29, 2024

It’s exciting—and even surprising—the magic that can happen when collaborators from across the world put their heads together to tackle complex issues. The cultural exchange was rewarding and the learnings ample at a pilot virtual research forum last summer entitled, “The Global Climate Crisis: East to West—perspectives, challenges and solutions.”

Building on the longstanding partnership between The Aga Khan University (AKU) and UBC, and a shared commitment to transformative learning and climate action, the forum was designed to facilitate collaboration between faculty and students in this area of mutual interest. The four-week online student research forum in June and July 2023 focused on the health impacts of climate change. In mixed teams, students from UBC and AKU, based in Karachi city, Pakistan, worked together across disciplines to produce original research, as well as problem-solve some of the planet’s toughest issues.

The overall objective was to hone students’ “21st century skills,” including global knowledge, teamwork, and intercultural awareness and competence, plus advance understanding of climate changes impacts in context. Ten UBC Master’s, PhD and undergraduate students met virtually with 12 from AKU.

A screeshot from one of the online forum sessions. Says Dr. Fozia Parveen, Assistant Professor at AKU’s Institute for Educational Development, "For me the most enjoyable part was getting to connect with the faculty from UBC and seeing the idea take shape in real (virtual) life. I particularly enjoyed the short collaboration with Tara [Ivanochko] on one of the sessions we co-designed. There are so many points I had noted as a way forward for my own climate and health interests.”          

Four two-hour sessions covered planetary and human health; climate effects on health and adaptive responses; and healthcare, health systems and individuals. Students presented on mental health impacts: for example, how heat waves affect pregnant women and how a plant-based diet influences non-communicable diseases. Student project groups honed in on different aspects of the subtopics according to their interests and experience. One group looked at mental health impacts, for example, focusing on how heat waves affect pregnant women; another examined how a plant-based diet influences non-communicable diseases.

Participating faculty included: UBC’s Dr. Tara Ivanochko (Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science), Dr. Michael Brauer (School of Population and Public Health) and Dr. Videsh Kapoor (Global Health); and AKU’s Dr. Parveen, Dr. Zafar Fatmi (Community Health Sciences) and Dr. Jai Das (Institute of Global Health and Development). (Read more.)

Students said they found the forum extremely informative and valuable: “I learned that when developing…solutions to address climate change, it is crucial for global bodies like UN and other international NGOs to consider local factors (culture, language, socio-economic conditions, etc.) into their strategies,” said one participant.

Commented another student: “I learned to be flexible around other people’s perspectives rather than imposing my beliefs.”

We spoke to Salima Sayani, a fifth-year PhD student at the UBC School of Population and Public Health. Born in Pakistan, she has an MSc in Epidemiology and BSc in Nursing from Aga Khan University. Her research focuses on child health and wellbeing in Canada and Pakistan. Sayani worked on two videos with Dr. Ingrid Jarvis, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, and documentary filmmaker and journalist Sonal Gupta, a UBC School of Journalism graduate, for Dr. Brauer’s session on health impacts and responses to the heat dome and wildfires in Canada. Sayani’s project group explored waste management, climate change and human wellbeing.

Q: How did you find the forum?
A: It was a very unique kind of experience for me: AKU Pakistan and UBC students coexisted in the same virtual space. It was quite condensed and exciting. In the first three sessions, experts from UBC and AKU spoke about different aspects of climate change. The last session was dedicated to final presentations of what was done in the groups. We talked about one of the issues of climate change and how to address it, mitigation and solutions. We talked about wildfires and heat domes affecting communities in Western Canada. Indigenous communities and rural communities living in remote areas are disproportionately affected. It was all new to me; there’s no dedicated course in my PhD program where we learn about climate change and its impacts on human health and wellness.

Q: What were your takeaways?
A: Dr. Zafar Fatimi from Pakistan talked about how climate change has affected food security: growing crops, malnutrition and undernutrition, how we are going to eat, and that the whole food chain is at risk. That was very interesting and eye-opening for me. It made me wonder the implication of this effect of climate change on food on children’s health and wellbeing. Also that this is not a local, but a global phenomenon. Climate change is affecting everyone on Earth, but in different ways—and nobody is immune to it. We need to work collaboratively to find solutions leveraging science and local wisdom. 

Virtual field trip to (Sakro) Thatta Sindh, Pakistan (video: Meere-Karwan/YouTube)

Q: What were the challenges?
A: For the group work, setting up meeting times while considering two time zones 12 hours apart to work together was one of the challenges we encountered. There were also times when some students couldn’t connect because of a lack of electricity or Internet stability. That’s just a reality in the lives of students at AKU, whereas we in Canada are living in a tech-enabled world. Sometimes the professors had to pause because Internet speed was affected. We experienced all of it together in one classroom.

Q: What was your group’s presentation about?
A: Solid waste management. In Pakistan, there is no proper collection or management system, especially in urban communities. Waste dumps are left in the open and are a breeding ground for infections and health problems. We asked, how can we turn waste into something useful, such as biomass? Also, the kind of waste in countries like Pakistan differs: there’s more organic waste. In North America and Europe, there’s a lot of dry solid waste and industrial waste—there’s more recycling and collection. So there’s a lot of potential for organics in Pakistan, but that’s just wasted now. It comes down to the inequality of resources again. We also looked at how this is all linked to sustainable development and health. Also, Pakistan is one of the most populated countries in the world and is currently relying on China for coal. We identified the benefits of having a waste management system and its role in solving the energy crisis.

Q: Why is it important to have global sessions like this one?
A: We might not realize it, but every action has consequences: the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the building we live in; not only for the human population, but the wildlife and nature around us. We live in a connected world and everything is tied together. For example, Pakistan contributes minimally to greenhouse gases, but the impact on the country is much higher.

Q: Any closing thoughts?
A: After this experience, I reflected that anything affecting one part of the world affects the global community. We are not living in a bubble—our actions have consequences for others.

This is one of two videos that UBC's Salima Sayani worked on with Dr. Ingrid Jarvis and Sonal Gupta for Dr. Brauer’s session on health impacts and responses to wildfires in Canada caused by climate change (video: Salima Sayani, Sonal Gupta & Ingrid Jarvis)

Read about UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.

Read about the UBC Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.

Read about UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Global Health division.

“I was inspired by my colleagues who were all so committed to engaging with students,” said UBC’s Dr. Ivanochko. “Dr. Parveen was wonderful to collaborate with. I learned that we are dealing with common challenges, despite the cultural and institutional differences we face. I was also struck by the video that she produced. The people she met in the Pakistani flood camps needed food, water and menstrual products—climate was not the first thing on their minds. This was very important for me to see in order to understand what it is really like now for people displaced by flooding in Pakistan.”


  • Issues of Global Relevance
  • Students as Global Citizens
  • UBC as a Global Actor