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

How Indigenous leadership is protecting communities from climate disasters

Image result for the conversation: How Indigenous leadership is protecting communities from climate disasters
A wildfire burns on a logging road in central British Columbia in August 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

“The fires were never a threat to us. It was the state that was the threat.”

In two short sentences Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, conveyed to a House of Commons committee a central insight of disaster studies. The environment does not create disasters — people do.

In 2017, British Columbia experienced the first of two successive years of record-breaking wildfires. On July 7, following 130 lightning strikes, fires (amplified by climate change) tore through the B.C. interior, consumed 760,000 hectares of Tsilhqot’in territory and engulfed three of six Tsilhqot’in communities.

The provincial wildfire response that followed revealed how people — through policies, practices and laws — leave some communities more vulnerable to disasters. It was a striking example of law’s role in disaster, which I mapped in relation to the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. After the 2017 wildfires, I worked with the Tsilhqot’in Nation to document its communities’ experiences with wildfire.

Unequal vulnerability

Decades of research has documented that social factors such as race, gender, ability and poverty contribute to the harms suffered during disasters. Laws and policies that continually marginalize people and communities during ordinary times make these same people vulnerable to disaster.

Wildfire map for the Tsilhqot’in territory during the summer of 2017. Tsilhqot’in National GovernmentAuthor provided

This theory was tested the summer of 2017 when fires raged through Tsilhqot’in territory. The wildfires revealed the inadequacy of existing laws and the ongoing legacy of colonial policies as key culprits in the vulnerability of the Tsilhqot’in during the wildfire response. Confusion and conflict over legal jurisdiction were central and enduring themes of the wildfire response.

Read more: How will Canada manage its wildfires in the future?


Jurisdiction is fundamental to self-determining Indigenous peoples. It is also fundamental to understanding how multiple levels of government and agencies involved in emergency management work together to keep people safe during a crisis. Jurisdiction answers the question: Who gets to decide? MORE

Extreme weather may finally make climate change a ballot-box issue

In Prince Edward County we  are still recovering from flooding as waves nibble at our shoreline. The County’s soon to be formed Environmental Committee will have its work cut out for it as it will be forced to reexamine past policies, revise them,and set out a vision for a new, local, and sustainable green economy . There is no doubt that  climate change will be a ballot box issue.

Voters have long been unmoved by scientists’ dire climate predictions, but fires, floods and other catastrophic weather events might cause a shift.


A fire burns near High Level, Alta., in May 2019, forcing thousands from their homes (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/CP)

Back in the spring of 2016, when images of a voracious forest fire menacing Fort McMurray, Alta., were dominating the news, reporters asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if climate change was to blame. As the unofficial capital of Alberta’s oil sands, Fort McMurray figures prominently in the bitter debate over fossil fuels and global warming, so Trudeau responded carefully. “It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet,” he allowed, before quickly adding, “Pointing at any one incident and saying, ‘This is because of that’ is neither helpful nor entirely accurate.”

Trudeau drew criticism from some who thought he had missed a chance to highlight the heavy price humanity is already paying for making the planet hotter and drier. But his answer was a pretty standard political dodge at the time. Even Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said “no credible climate scientist” would draw a neat cause-and-effect link between climate change and the Fort Mac fire. Then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said, “It’s not time to start laying blame.” 

A lot has changed, though, in the past three years. During severe flooding in Eastern Canada this spring, for instance, Trudeau didn’t hesitate to raise the alarm about climate change. “Canadians are already seeing the costs,” he said.

READ: Bill McKibben on how we might avert climate change suicide

Other Liberals were even more outspoken. “Yes, climate change is real,” said MP Will Amos, whose Quebec riding, on the Ottawa River, was hit badly by the floods. “Yes, it is wreaking havoc on our infrastructure.” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the senior voice from Western Canada in Trudeau’s cabinet, linked global warming to the floods, as well as fires on Prairie grasslands and in boreal forests. Goodale said he didn’t want to get into a partisan argument, but stressed, “I think we all have to learn the lessons of climate change—the impacts here are powerful and dangerous and damaging.”

The shift from pussyfooting around how climate change leads to more extreme weather events to talking about it so forcefully hasn’t happened by chance. It’s the result of a concerted effort by researchers to create a new field called “attribution science.” The challenge they faced was that climate is so complicated that teasing out a single cause for, say, a flood or a fire is impossible. So they devised methods for calculating how much climate change had contributed. The watershed report was published by researchers from the University of Oxford in 2004, explaining how global warming caused by humans had at least doubled the risk of the heat wave that baked Europe the previous year.

Since that landmark study, attribution science has taken off, including in Canada. The federal government’s “Canada’s Changing Climate Report,” released early this year, listed 14 Canadian attribution studies published from 2015-17, on everything from forest fires, to flooding, to thinning Arctic sea ice. 

In a widely noted report, Environment Canada researchers analyzed the awful 2017 forest fire season in British Columbia, when 65,000 were driven from their homes and millions left breathing smoke-filled air. They concluded that the extreme summer temperatures behind those fires were made more than 20 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  MORE

Climate Irony in Alberta: Version 2.0

The proposed Ecocide Act under the Rome Statute would hold those with principal responsibility  (ie. politicians, corporate executives, financiers, etc) accountable before the International Criminal Court if they knew or ought to have known that their actions would cause ecocide. 

Climate Irony in Alberta: Version 2.0, Below2C

In his recent Opinion piece in the Tyee, Mitchell Anderson sums us Premier Jason Kenney’s vision to return the Oilsands to their glory days as the beginning of a grim environmental endgame. “As the rest of the planet strives to curb carbon dependence, Alberta is instead stepping on the gas,” writes Anderson. Alberta is boldly accelerating new oil wells and abandoning the old ones as wildfires rage.

In 2016, I wrote about an inescapable climate irony as the massive Fort McMurray wildfire raged out of control. “Tar Sands are a dirty fuel producing high carbon emissions that cause global heating. Climate change makes extreme climate events such as wildfires more intense and severe. Alberta wildfires are made worse because of carbon emissions produced in its own back yard. The circle is complete.” And now in 2019, it’s much the same.

The following post by Mitchell Beer highlights the ongoing climate irony unfolding as the 2019 wildfire season intensifies. It was first published in The Energy Mix. MORE