250 scientists from around the world signed an open letter about a “crisis looming” in Canadian climate research.
Justin Trudeau visits the Snow Castle on Yellowknife Bay in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in February 2017. Image: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
With the US and Australia recently gutting their climate science programs, 250 prominent international scientists have urged Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step up and invest in climate change research. Canada is putting unique Arctic research facilities, international collaborations, and vital data at risk.
In an open letter published on Monday, these scientists noted “there is a crisis looming” because Canada’s one and only program funding climate science research, Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR), has no more money. They urged Trudeau’s government to re-invest: “Canada is playing a leading role in international climate policy discussions,” the letter says. “[W]e are looking to Canada to be an international leader on climate science.”
"At the highest levels of government in the United States, climate science is devalued and dismissed,” said Benjamin Santer, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. “In these difficult times, US climate scientists look to our Canadian neighbors for encouragement,” Santer said in a statement.
CCAR, which falls under the umbrella of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, is a $7 million-a-year program that funds research at Canada’s universities. CCAR projects investigate fundamental Earth system processes that drive weather, climate and ecosystem functioning across Canada. That funding is set to dry up in 2018, and hasn’t been renewed. For comparison, Canada spent $4.3-million for a temporary ice rink on Parliament Hill this winter.
CCAR funding hasn’t been replaced, acknowledged Dan Weaver, a researcher at the University of Toronto and member of the science lobby group Evidence for Democracy. “That’s worrying scientists in other countries who depend on Canada for research data,” he said in an interview. “they’re looking to Canada for leadership in science.”
CCAR itself was a replacement for $117-million Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, eliminated by the Stephen Harper government in 2011 as part of a series of deep cuts to environmental science and enforcement.
CCAR-funded projects measure, observe, and model what’s happening in Canada’s huge Arctic region, research that reflects important international environmental issues such as how the sea ice and snow cover is changing, weather prediction and climate projection; changes to land, water, and climate; and the temperature of the atmosphere in the high Arctic. Last April, an internal review concluded that "providing funding for climate change research through CCAR is an appropriate and necessary role for the federal government."
The Trudeau government says acting on climate change and doing research is very important, Weaver told Motherboard. “That’s what makes it so surprising that there is no funding for research in basic, fundamental science.”
For its part, the government says it is investing in climate research, with an additional $70 million in the 2017 budget and federal research granting councils awarding “approximately $37 million in climate research annually,” Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan said in a statement provided to Motherboard.
But Weaver said those investments are not necessarily going towards basic science research.
Last fall, after thousands of Canadians and scientists wrote letters to Minister Duncan, $1.6 million in funding was found for one of the CCAR projects, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL). That will keep it operating until 2019.
“Canada is uniquely placed to monitor the changing atmosphere in the high Arctic regions,” said Clare Murphy, Director of the Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Wollongong in Australia, said in a statement. “As such Canadian atmospheric and climate science plays a pivotal role in the global effort to understand our changing environment.”
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