Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Without funding, Canadian climate science is in peril

The authors comprise the National Executive of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS). Paul J. Kushner, is a professor in the Department of Physics, University of Toronto, principal investigator of the Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution Network (CanSISE) and vice-president of CMOS. Wayne Richardson is president of CMOS. Martin Taillefer is president of Maritime Way Scientific and past president of CMOS.

A crisis is looming for Canadian climate research on scientific issues of critical relevance to Canadians, as The Globe reported in June.

With anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases driving rapid global warming, Arctic sea ice loss and permafrost retreat, climate change is set to affect Canadians in myriad ways. But to understand just how much change Canadians are going to see, and how we can best adapt to these changes, up-to-date scientific research and information are urgently needed.

Story continues below advertisement

For the past five years, seven national climate research networks supported by the Government of Canada's Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program have been investigating questions that impact the daily lives of Canadians. This includes research ranging from the role of greenhouse gases and aerosol particles in recent Arctic sea ice loss, the Alberta floods of 2013 and the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016; the state and fate of the Arctic's ocean, clouds, air quality, permafrost and glaciers in an era of rapid global warming; how the Labrador Sea "breathes," storing carbon dioxide and thus decreasing its rate of increase in the atmosphere; to changes in cold climate soils and snow and how this will impact water resources. Unfortunately, funding for these programs is set to expire within the year.

Related: Science Minister Kirsty Duncan ready to begin science funding overhaul

This critical research better positions Canadians to understand how their landscapes will change due to climate change; enables environmental policy and business decisions based on sound, scientific evidence; and drives improved marine and climate prediction systems that provide climatic forecasts seasons to years ahead.

At a modest investment of about $7-million per year, these funds have trained over 350 highly qualified personnel (undergraduate students, graduate students and other trainees) and supported field research across Canada. It's also fostered impressive partnerships between Canadian universities and government laboratory researchers to leverage breakthroughs that would not have been possible otherwise. An interim evaluation of CCAR suggests that, to date, the program has operated effectively and has enhanced research on climate change and atmospheric processes, thus advancing Canada's scientific and environmental interests.

It was therefore surprising and disheartening to learn that the 2017 federal budget did not include a renewal of the CCAR program. As a result, these science networks will have to terminate personnel and science positions, cancel training opportunities, shut down field programs and limit Canada's participation in international programs that are looking at global aspects of climate change. Even if funding does come along eventually, Canadian climate science is now facing another gap that will bring about irreversible disruption to the research capacity built over the last five years.

We are encouraged by the Canadian public's growing acceptance of the scientific evidence for global climate change and its importance for our everyday lives, as well as Canada's commitments to the Paris climate-change agreement.

We recognize the need to move toward climate change solutions within the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change – whether those involve green technology and design, measures to generate climate resilient infrastructure and/or transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Story continues below advertisement

While our scientific understanding is advancing, our climate is still changing and we must figure out the causes and impacts of those changes – this is imperative. Canada needs continued investment in climate research to stay up-to-date with these advances, to lead the market with new technologies, new observations, framework commitments that require accounting for greenhouse gas emissions and sudden environmental changes that will impact us.

This is the second time in recent memory that climate research funding in Canada has been under threat. The previous government cut funding in 2009 to programs before reinstating support under CCAR in 2013. Now, with the current government not renewing CCAR funding, there are currently no meaningful climate research programs in Canada at a national scale, and no vision to drive progress in this important research area.

The federal government has prioritized action on climate change and has committed to policies that are based on well-supported science. Effective action and commitment will be impossible unless Canadians and decision-makers have up-to-date information on how our climate is changing. The government needs to follow through on its commitment with a continued emphasis on climate research funded through an open peer-reviewed process that would invite creative ideas that serve well-defined scientific and practical objectives. Canadian researchers stepped up to this challenge in the past through the CCAR program and this resulted in world-class research in this critical area.

For our future's sake, we need to continue this effort and not allow climate research to fall through another funding gap.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Please note that our commenting partner Civil Comments is closing down. As such we will be implementing a new commenting partner in the coming weeks. As of December 20th, 2017 we will be shutting down commenting on all article pages across our site while we do the maintenance and updates. We understand that commenting is important to our audience and hope to have a technical solution in place January 2018.

Discussion loading… ✨