Critical science research in jeopardy over funding, scientist warns
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, July 7, 2017 10:50AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 7, 2017 2:30PM EDT
Critical climate research in Canada is about to be put on ice in the absence of sustainable federal funding, says one of the country’s leading scientists.
Without continuous funding from Ottawa, “we will have to mothball the lab in the hopes that sometime in the future we’ll get funding and be able to resume,” said Jim Drummond, principal investigator for the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.
The 11-year-old PEARL is Canada’s most northern civilian research facility and is focused on observing the polar sunrise, when the high Arctic emerges from months of darkness. It casts important but fleeting light on climate change.
Canadian scientists say the Trudeau government is saying all the right things about climate science and solutions, but there is little in the way of action to fund research. The work of many Canadian climate scientists is funded through a $35-million federal program called Climate Change and Atmospheric Research.
CCAR supports seven projects, with six due to run out of money at the end of the year. A seventh will continue for an additional year with no more money. The 2017 federal budget did not contain a replacement for CCAR, leaving researchers fearful they will have to pull the plug on projects years in the making.
The latest federal budget set aside $73.5-million over five years, starting in 2017-2018, to Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada to establish a Canadian Centre for climate services but it’s unclear how existing projects will be funded.
“The centre will improve access to climate science and will provide the evidence needed to inform decision-making,” officials with the office of the Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca. They also pointed to investments to integrate climate resilience into building codes and funding to address the impacts of climate change on soil and water conservation.
“Our government is committed to addressing climate change and that includes making important investments in climate change research across the government. The federal granting councils will continue to fund research on climate change, including approximately $50 million per year through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for basic research.”
But scientists say a lack of certainty about ongoing funding means they can’t pursue other funding sources or commit to research partnerships. They warn that delays in funding could lead to a disruption similar to what happened after the Harper government cut its predecessor program in 2012, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
Drummond says a mothballing plan was in place five years ago.
“We were very, very close to implementing it when new funding came through,” Drummond told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.
“But it is very disruptive to the people who are doing the research and also to the continuity of the datasets. Climate is a long-term issue, so producing very good long-term datasets is essential if you’re going to understand what is happening.”
He says PEARL and other Canadian projects contribute data to many global research projects to get a complete picture of what’s happening on the planet. He’s fearful Canadian scientists will have to go abroad for work and warns the world is watching Canada’s commitment.
Data collection has to happen in real time, says Drummond, who is also a professor of atmospheric science at Dalhousie University. He pointed to data captured in 2011 which showed the largest ozone depletion in the Arctic. Had researchers not been there to record it, it would remain unknown.
“A gap is a gap and will always be there no matter how much effort you put into it in the future.”