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Globe editorial: Science-loving government cuts funding for science

It would be hard to argue that the Trudeau government isn't gung-ho about fighting climate change. Among other marquee moves since taking power, it obliged the provinces and territories to impose a price on carbon pollution by this year, under threat of doing it for them, and announced, in its 2017 budget, a $21.9-billion, 11-year investment in green-energy infrastructure.

As well, the Liberals regularly vow to "restore science as a pillar of government decision-making," the words used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last September when he named the country's new chief science advisor.

Given this, it's hard to understand why Ottawa isn't renewing the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program, the only dedicated federal program that funds long-term, large-scale research into the effects of climate change.

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The $35-million program expires this year, after funding seven major projects over five years, most of them in the Arctic. So far no one in the government has explained why this is happening. Tellingly, though, last fall Ottawa gave the most high-profile CCAR-funded project, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut, an 18-month extension.

The PEARL is the most northern civilian-run research station in Canada, and its data is used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Office. Defunding it would have caused an international controversy – exactly the way it did in 2011 when the Harper government threatened to do that very thing.

The outcry was so loud that it helped prompt the Conservatives to create CCAR. The Trudeau government clearly did not want to suffer the same global opprobrium. It does appear, though, that it wants to quietly get out of the business of funding major university-led climate-change research, and instead rely on smaller one-off projects, and on work done by federal scientists, to inform its policies.

Given that Canada claims sovereignty over the Arctic, it's a shortsighted decision. It's not the end of the world that six research projects are coming to an end this year. What's tragic is that Ottawa won't be funding new ones that pick up where they left off, and instead will let their findings and the hundreds of grad students they trained be scattered to the winds, or into the hands of researchers in other countries.

Canada needs sustained, large-scale research on climate change done in this country, led by Canadians. Ottawa should extend CCAR, or replace it, before the year is out.

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