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Political Backlash: Canadian Government Prunes Climate Research

A lack of federal funds for climate and atmospheric science has “sounded the death knell for research groups working in this field in Canada,” Rene Laprise, ESCER’s director, wrote in a statement.

His centre has lost two staff, who found government jobs after learning that their salaries would not be guaranteed past September 2010, Laprise told by email. Five others are expected to leave “any time,” he wrote.

Climate scientists across the country say they’re in a similar situation — with dwindling funds and poor prospects to secure more money, they’re preparing to shut down major projects while their staff seeks jobs abroad.

Financial woes

Laprise and other scientists in his field are frustrated that the 2010 federal budget, made public last month, set aside no new money for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the main source of federal funding for climate-related research.

CFCAS was founded in 2000 and has doled out $116 million on 198 research grants at universities from Victoria to Halifax.

Canadian scientists who have contributed to international initiatives such as the World Climate Programme and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rely on the foundation for a large part of their research money.

And while CFCAS’s mandate runs to March 31, 2012, it hasn’t received any new cash since 2003, and the money it has received was “fully committed” two years ago.

“There are no more funds to be distributed,” Kelly Crowe, a spokesperson for the foundation, told by email. “Our researchers are all looking at wrapping up their projects for good.”

A spokesperson for Environment Canada said that last year, the ministry received a funding request from CFCAS for $50 million to be spent over three years. But the request hasn’t been approved.

“The government will continue to consider this proposal, in the context of our current fiscal constraints,” Tracy Lacroix-Wilson wrote in an email. “We cannot speculate on any future funding at this time.”

Brain drain

Meanwhile, climate and atmospheric science researchers have begun to leave the country.

In December, Katrin Meissner quit a tenure-track position at the University of Victoria and moved her family to Sydney, Australia. She now studies climate change at the University of New South Wales, with two other researchers who also recently left Canadian universities.

“The possible closing of the CFCAS was certainly part of it,” Meissner said, referring to her decision to leave.

Theodore Shepherd, a veteran physicist at the University of Toronto who studies atmospheric dynamics, said people like Meissner are pulling up stakes because the international landscape for climate-change funding no longer favours Canada.

Full story

Background: How climate science is used as political weapon against Canada’s government.