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FUNDING NOT RENEWED FOR CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENTISTS
By Suzanne Forcese
A report assessment led by Environment and Climate Change Canada entitled Canada in a Changing Climate: Advancing our Knowledge for Action, stated “Warming of the climate system is unequivocally based on robust evidence.” The report concluded that “both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming” and that the “rate and magnitude of climate change under high versus low emission scenarios project two very different futures for Canada.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming has warned of the urgent need to take action to reduce global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide by 45% by 2030, reaching “net zero” around 2050 to avoid a 2° C or more rise in temperature.
Canada has international environmental and sustainability commitments. The Paris Agreement commits Canada to enact measures that aim to limit the global temperature rise.
However, the concern is that although Canada has a unique and distinguished position in terms of global knowledge and understanding of the climate and the Arctic, we are losing that impeccable talent to Europe, Japan and the United States—where their work is valued --due to lack of funding. Moreover, the infrastructure necessary to support valuable research also requires an injection of funds that is not forthcoming.
WaterToday spoke with Katie Gibbs, (biology PhD in conservation). Gibbs is Founder of Evidence for Democracy (E4D), a fact-driven, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government
decision- making in Canada. “I wanted to combine my passion for science with a way to de-mystify policy making.” The grassroots engagement of E4D supports over 16, 000 volunteers who include scientists, researchers, educators, and the general public whose basic mission is holding government accountable through streaming appropriate funding to those scientists that have the ability to connect government to its priorities. The priority in this case being to limit global temperature rise.
Currently there is no dedicated fund for Climate Science. Previously, in 2000, The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science provided an average of $12 million per year in funding for university-based research on climate and atmospheric sciences. In 2012 the government replaced it with the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program. Funding lapsed in 2018 and the present government has not replaced it. “So many policy decisions in all levels of governments are made without adequate assessment of evidence.” Gibbs feels funding was not renewed because the “pots of money were not the right fit.”
Gibbs has co-authored a report that followed on the heels of the Environment and Climate Change Canada report. “We already know climate change is a reality. Flooding in the east, droughts and wild-fires in the west,” Gibbs stated. “But without evidence-based research, policy makers cannot make the appropriate decisions.”
The report based on a survey of 84 climate change scientists and interviews with 9 climate change academics concludes that the atmospheric sciences have been neglected in the allocation of funds while climate-related research in other fields has seen an increase in funding.
“Given Canada’s unique access to the Arctic,” the report states, “its highly skilled scientists and its commitment to climate action, we are in an exceptional position to be a leader in Arctic science, and in climate, atmospheric and ozone research globally.” Alarmingly though “77% of surveyed scientists say that highly qualified personnel have left the field due to the federal government approach to funding science,” Gibbs said.
Canadian climate science requires both investment in infrastructure and in academic research as part of a clear strategy. Climate scientists rely heavily on government-funded infrastructure, and yet a flagship Canadian satellite for measuring atmospheric gases and ozone, SCISAT, is now 14 years past its planned lifetime. And carefully planned experiments on the 40-year-old CCGS Amundsen have been cancelled due to a lack of ice-breakers. The 2019 federal budget proposes up to $21.8 million over 5 years to support critical repairs and upgrades at the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. There is also critical need for research funding to support climate scientists to make full use of this infrastructure. Gibbs cautions, “The significant cost of infrastructure can distort funding trends giving the appearance of significant funding.”
“We need continuity in science-specific funding in order to maintain vital long-term monitoring programs and to attract and retain highly qualified personnel.”
The study of the climate, indicators and impacts of climate change, as well as applied science and technological developments to mitigate climate change and GHGs encompasses a vast and diverse range of funding needs. 82% of respondents to the survey expressed concerns about the current funding approach.
Aside from the amounts of funding, the way in which federal competitive grants are disbursed was criticized by a number of climate scientists. “It tends to come in
large bursts, which support large initiatives and the development of large groups with specialist expertise—which then have to be disbanded when the funding ends and nothing equivalent is introduced to replace it. This unreliability of funding is a profound obstacle to climate research in Canada.”
The way funding for climate science is disbursed is not suitable for the way climate-science is conducted; it does not promote innovation and discovery and it does not support scientists and staff at different career stages.
94% of respondents recommended more funding for government/academic collaborations but not just for climate-science. The need for more collaboration across scientific disciplines is appreciated by a majority of researchers (65%).
The vast majority of scientists (63%) also rely on foreign resources for their research, not only funding but also satellites, aircraft and ships.
The 30-page report makes a number of recommendations to provide more support for the next generation of climate scientists through clear career paths, small pots of funding to support early career researchers and funds for support staff.
By establishing a climate-science funding strategy and by improving funding structures much can be done to meet the needs of this diverse, multidisciplinary area of research. More monitoring stations are also recommended as well as long-term plans for icebreakers, research aircraft and satellites. There is also a need for climate scientists to have access to climate data.
For Katie Gibbs and the staff at E4D the job now is to highlight atmospheric science with this report, ramp up the campaign, and partner with an educating outreach to assist government in accurate policy decision-making.
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