Canadian climate science is facing a looming crisis whose repercussions could be felt far beyond the country’s borders, hundreds of scientists have warned, after the Canadian government failed to renew the country’s only dedicated funding program for climate and atmospheric research.
In an open letter addressed to Justin Trudeau, more than 250 scientists from 22 countries highlight their concern over the imminent end of the C$35m Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program.
Launched in 2012, the program funded seven research networks that explored issues such as the impact of aerosols, changing sea ice and snow cover, as well as atmospheric temperatures in the high Arctic.
Much of the research emerging from the program was focused on Canada’s Arctic, yielding data sets that were used around the world by scientists seeking to better understand climate change and its impacts.
The government’s decision came as a surprise to many in Canada, said Dan Weaver of Evidence For Democracy, the research advocacy group who published the letter on Monday.
“The government has taken great effort to engage with policies around climate and climate education, green energy and a lot of these great things,” he said. “But somehow along the way, the support for the atmospheric science – the underlying science of the issue – has been overlooked.”
Scientists in Canada first sounded the alarm last spring after noticing that the 2017 federal budget did not include funding for the program. Amid public outcry the government said it would extend funding for one of the program’s projects; a one-of-a-kind research lab located some 1,100 km from the North Pole.
While the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory now has funding until the fall of 2019, the six remaining projects are bracing for their funding to dry up in March.
The loss of these projects will be felt globally, says the letter. Canada’s scientists are uniquely positioned to research the Arctic, arguably the world’s most critical region when it comes to quantifying how and why the climate is changing, said signatory Gloria Manney, a senior research scientist at the Northwest Research Associates in the US. “Continuous, stable funding support for Canadian atmospheric and climate science is thus crucial to advancing understanding of our planet.”
As the Trump administration seeks to devalue climate science, Canada’s commitment to climate research is needed now more than ever, said signatory Benjamin D Santer, a senior climate researcher at the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. “The world is looking to Canada for political leadership that the United States is currently unable to provide,” he said.
While Trudeau government’s stated support for climate science and the Paris climate agreement has been encouraging, “such support cannot be limited to fine-sounding words”, he said. “It must be backed by a real commitment to preserve and sustain the unique climate measurement, climate monitoring, and climate modeling capabilities that Canada possesses.”
In response to the letter, Canada’s minister of science pointed to the additional C$70m her government had set aside for climate research in the last budget, adding to the C$37m provided annually by federal research granting councils. “We are doing more to combat climate change than any Canadian federal government in history,” Kirsty Duncan said in a statement. “Our government will continue to support and invest in the actions necessary to address climate change.”
Weaver welcomed these efforts, but he said they should be paired with long term funding for research. “If Canada isn’t contributing this key piece of the puzzle, no one else can,” he said.
“The Trudeau government is taking concrete actions on climate and science in a variety of ways, but it’s missing a critical piece,” he said. “And that’s what this is all about – ensuring that this gap is filled in some way or another.”
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