Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
In 2011, the federal government provided $35 million for the CFCAS to pursue weather- and climate-related research in Canada until 2016. This is less than half of what is required to sustain the organization's research.
The CFCAS was established in 2000 by the Chrétien government.
Funding for the CFCAS was not an issue for its first decade of existence. It received $60 million in 2003, divided into operating funds and funds for research grants which have contributed to job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, as well as specialized knowledge for policy, research, weather forecasting and business. A further grant of $50 million in 2003 ensured the foundation’s survival until 2010.
In 2009, former Environment Minister Jim Prentice extended the foundation’s mandate for a year, but refused to refund it. Similarly, Budget 2010 announced no new federal funding for CFCAS despite a petition signed by almost 1,400 researchers and students, demanding increased support for the “endangered” foundation.
The cuts have resulted in the defunding of major CFCAS research initiatives. Casualties include the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL), which collects data on climate change in the far north - where global warming is the most pronounced, and the Polar Environment Climate Stability Network (PECSN), which studies the mechanisms of rapid climate change in the Arctic, including the role of ice, the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere.
Minister Prentice said that the government would continue to support basic research on climate change through venues other than CFCAS. However, many in the research community are preoccupied that the amount of funding granted by CFCAS will not be matched by other agencies.
Many Canadian and international scientists are also concerned that the Harper government is distrustful of climate-change science in general and of scientists who provide evidence that urgent action is needed to prevent catastrophic global warming and its impact on the lives of Canadians.
“It’s quite clear we have a government that says they believe this is an issue but really don’t care about it,” pointed out Andrew Weaver, a world-renowned climatologist from the University of Victoria.
Graham Saul, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, has accused the government of using the funding cuts to stifle public debate on climate change. Saul commented that the government was “muzzling scientists” by reducing funding in key areas. “It’s almost as though they’re making a conscious attempt to bury the truth.”
Opposition MPs have also criticized the government for being overly influenced by climate change skeptics.
The underfunding of the CFCAS takes place at a time when scientists are saying that an informed public debate based on solid climate research is critical, because Canada is one of the most weather- and climate-affected countries in the world. “Now more than ever, Canada needs robust funding for weather and climate research to help us adapt to, mitigate and benefit from the changes occurring in our atmosphere and oceans,” said Gordon McBean, Chair of the CFCAS Board of Trustees.
The lack of funds for CFCAS will prevent it from producing enough data, or consistent enough data, to enhance the ability of Canadians to advocate responsible policy not only about climate change, but also in other areas. Weather forecasting, agriculture, forestry, tourism, transportation, and public safety such as bridge and sewer design, all require solid scientific research allowing for public debate which effectively informs government policy. “People die when you get the tornado forecast wrong,” commented McBean.
A recent study by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy stressed that Canadians will pay a high price with respect to their health and different sectors of the economy such as forestry if current and future governments continue to be oblivious to climate change and dismissive of climate science.
In international affairs, Canada will increasingly have to refer to the climate and weather data of other countries when international climate politics are negotiated.
To date, the Canadian government has not announced plans to grant climate and atmospheric scientists with the funds they need to provide key data to policy makers and the Canadian public, thus preventing the emergence of a diverse and informed debate on climate change, in which various perspectives can be effectively advocated.
- 2000-2004: The CFCAS is founded and receives $110 million in federal funds.
- 2006-2010: The Harper minority government grants CFCAS no new funding. In the period between 2007 and 2008 the environment minister John Baird refuses to meet with CFCAS’ board to discuss the future of the foundation.
- 2010: Almost 1,400 students and researchers sign a petition, demanding increased funding for the “endangered” foundation.
- 2011: The government grants the CFCAS $35-million over five years, an amount insufficient to sustain numerous critical research projects, or contribute to the development of policies based on solid scientific data.
Role or Position
The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) is Canada’s main funding body for research on climate, the atmosphere and the oceans. Its research supports efforts to understand our climate system, extreme weather, air quality and safety, as well as the special conditions of the Arctic. It has assisted numerous global research-based initiatives, including the World Climate Research Programme and the North American Carbon Program.
Implications and Consequences
- Free speech: Loss of critical information about Canada’s climate and atmosphere diminishes the ability of Canadians to advocate policies based on scientific evidence.
- Democracy: The loss of critical scientific information has numerous repercussions on public debates about solutions for problems in agriculture, forestry, transportation, tourism, and other areas. Those advocating policies and solutions to problems based on ideology or assumptions will benefit. Those advocating policies and solutions based on evidence and good judgment will be at a disadvantage.