Headshot of Robbie M. Parks next to aerial view of Dubai and COP28 logo

Public Health Professor Shares Audio Diary from Climate Conference

January 9, 2024

In early December, Columbia Mailman faculty traveled to Dubai to attend COP28, the UN-affiliated global climate conference. Notably, the conference was the first of its kind to formally spotlight the health impacts of climate change.

Among the Columbia Mailman attendees was Robbie M. Parks, assistant professor of environmental health sciences and an expert in the growing health impacts of the changing climate. Over seven days at the conference, he recorded an audio diary, sharing an insider’s view of the proceedings. (Listen to part 1 and part 2 of the audio diary.)

At the outset, Parks set a goal for himself “to be a good advocate for the field.” Early on, he attended a Climate and Health Reception organized in part by the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education. Contemplating the climate meeting’s new focus on health, he said he hoped this development signaled a shift in how both experts and the public think about climate change and observed that health care professionals of all stripes were well-represented among the COP’s attendees. Later, Parks presented his research, emphasizing the need to build resilience and maintain dignity in the face of climate stressors.

Parks found the conference to be well organized with music around every corner. Dining options included a plant-based food park. At one point, the Columbia Mailman professor had the opportunity to get inside an “air pollution pod” that replicated the conditions of different cities. After a visit to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, he observed the irony of attending a climate conference in a city blanketed by haze. “It’s funny, we are at COP, and pollution is a big reason why we are here,” he said. “I think the gas flaring has caused a lot of the haze day-to-day. It’s interesting, the air quality is currently very bad.”

On the policy front, COP28 delegates participated in the first-ever global stocktake—a process to assess progress toward the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Parks shared developments with his listeners. In the end, he said, the final declaration was not as strong as many had hoped, focused on reducing emissions rather than any phase-out of fossil fuels. “It is disappointing where we stand, but for me as a professional researcher this [conference] has been super stimulating,” Parks concluded. “I have to focus on getting research out there that is relevant and in the right hands.”