Angela Merkel will make a special visit to Halifax this week to highlight the work of climate scientists, a stop that underscores the German Chancellor’s focus on science and the environment in a summer when those same issues are dogging Canada’s Prime Minister.
After two days in the national capital region for meetings with Stephen Harper, Ms. Merkel will visit Dalhousie University in Halifax Thursday on her way home.
She’ll attend the launch of a joint project between the university’s Halifax Marine Research Institute and German scientists from the Helmholtz Association called “Change, Risks and Resources in the Oceans: A Transatlantic and Arctic Approach.”
The exhibits she’ll tour will highlight how rising ocean temperatures are causing plankton levels to decline and hurting fish populations. They’ll also demonstrate the impact of extreme marine events such as hurricanes and oil spills.
The extra stop wasn’t Ottawa’s idea.
German officials insist the Chancellor – a former quantum chemistry researcher – is not trying to provoke Ottawa with the visit. Yet it does drive home the difference in priorities for the two leaders. Ms. Merkel’s summer included a speech to an international climate conference in Berlin stressing the need to achieve a new global climate pact this year. Meanwhile in Canada, the Conservative government has been under fire for months over spending cuts to the environment and its efforts to further develop Alberta’s oil sands through new pipelines.
Canadian scientists organized a protest on Parliament Hill last month accusing the federal government of an “attack on science,” pointing to cuts such as the shutting down of Canada’s northernmost research laboratory in Eureka, Nunavut and the termination of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.
Martha Crago, Dalhousie’s vice-president of research who helped organize the Halifax visit, said the joint research will examine the opportunities for resource extraction as the Arctic melts, as well as the environmental consequences.
She noted that the project will be partially funded through new federal research funds announced earlier this year, including a $25-million, five-year fund called Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response.
“I think that this is something that will help to keep informing Canadians and Canadian politicians,” Dr. Crago said. “Her interest in speaking with and being with the scientists is very profound. It’s really quite striking for us in a university because as many official-type events that we would try to plan, the word would come back: She wants to spend the time with the scientists.”
Gary Goodyear, the federal minister of state for science and technology, will attend Thursday’s event. His office confirmed that it was organized by Dalhousie and the German government.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she hopes Ms. Merkel will convince Mr. Harper to change his approach to the environment and climate change.
“This visit should send a signal to Stephen Harper that the rest of the world needs to see Canada stop playing the role of obstructive, unwilling partner in climate negotiations and start being helpful,” she said.
Georg Juergens, the deputy head of mission at the German embassy in Ottawa, said the aim of the visit is to highlight the importance of science as a driver of future growth.
“We always like to include a talk with students or have an event at a university when we do visits like these, because if you talk one leader to another that’s all very fine, but you have to have an impact as well,” he said.
“Universities are our futures. Canada and Germany are both knowledge societies. We are a relatively small amount of people and we need to have an above average amount of brains.”