Climate scientists leaving Canada due to lack of funding

Canada has been a leader in climate research but a new report finds the country is suffering from a ‘bleed of expertise’ as funding dries up for key programs

Polar Environment Atmospheric Research LaboratoryThe Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) is the most northern atmospheric observatory of its kind. The lab hosts dozens of instruments across three main facilities. The ridge lab sits atop a ridge at an altitude of 610 metres, approximately 12 km from Eureka. It was originally built by Environment Canada in the early 1990s as the Arctic Stratospheric Observatory, but its operation was ended in the early 2000s. A group of academics revived the lab in 2005 and re-opened it as PEARL. The data sets produced by PEARL contribute to a variety of global work, including studying the carbon cycle, ozone depletion, water cycle, air pollution and aerosols. Photo: Dan Weaver

A lack of federal funding is driving away highly qualified Canadian climate scientists and  the vast majority of remaining scientists rely on resources from other countries for their research, according to a report released Wednesday by two non-profit groups.

The report comes less than three months after a scientific study revealed Canada is warming twice as fast as the global average and follows calamitous spring floods in Atlantic Canada and drought and forest fires in the west.

“Canadians are already being affected by climate change,” said Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy, which co-authored the report.

Investing in Canadian Climate Science

“Without continued research … decision-makers will be unable to make informed decisions about any aspect of climate policy.”

The 30-page report examines the state of funding for climate science in Canada based on a survey of scientists in the field.

It concludes that vital work in the atmospheric sciences is being neglected even though funding has increased for climate-related research in ecology and other fields.

Polar Environment Atmospheric Research LaboratoryScientists at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Nunavut. Photo: Dan Weaver

Canada not able to keep climate scientists

The report zooms in on the fate of Canada’s climate change and atmospheric research program. Established in 2000, the program received $110 million from the government to invest in university-based research in climate and atmospheric sciences.

Since funding for the program ended last year, Canada has lacked a dedicated funding stream for climate science, Weaver said. Among other research, the program focused on the changing Arctic ocean, changes in sea ice and snow (primarily in the Arctic) and weather processes.

“All of these topics are linked together into the big question of how Canada’s climate is changing,” said Weaver, a board member for Evidence for Democracy, which promotes the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. MORE

Report: Investing in Canadian Climate Science

Pioneering research in atmospheric sciences, meteorology and oceanography

Investing in Canadian Climate Science

This report is centered on what we heard from Canadian climate scientists about their experiences with research funding. It identifies strengths and weaknesses in how funding is allocated to climate science and puts forth seven recommendations for strengthening the landscape of climate science in Canada and ensuring that Canada remains a global leader in the field.

We took on this project because, in the face of the climate crisis, we understand that Canadian science plays a key role in our understanding of climate change.

Canada has unique access to the Arctic and Canadian researchers have pioneered research in atmospheric sciences, meteorology and oceanography. Given this, Canada is primed to be a global leader in these fields, if we strive to support our researchers by providing them the resources and funding that they require to carry out world-class research.

Here are some of our key findings: 

  • 77% of climate scientists think that highly qualified scientists are leaving the field due to a lack of support for their work.
  • 94% of climate scientists say that they rely on foreign resources to carry out their research.
  • There is significant anxiety about the federal approach to climate science within the scientific community, with 82% of surveyed climate scientists having concerns.
  • While there has been an increase in funding for climate related research in ecology and environmental science and management, vital work in the atmospheric sciences is being neglected.
  • As one climate scientist said “The current government funding approach is not a well-considered coherent approach but rather an amalgam of funding from diverse departments.”

For the rest of the findings, and to read  seven recommendations, check out the full report.