If the "science is settled" on climate change, why do we still need to invest in climate research?

To answer this question, Evidence for Democracy partnered with the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) to host an online town hall. Dr. Paul Kushner, Dr. Laxmi Sushama, and Dr. James Drummond joined us to share their take on the question and a bit about their research.

This timely town hall came just days before 250 international scientists sent an open letter to Justin Trudeau, urging him to invest in climate science and re-establish Canada as a leader in climate action and in the competitive international field of climate research. This letter calls for a sustainable funding model for Canadian climate science in the face of the approaching closure of the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program, whose funding has not been renewed and is due to run out this year.

All three of our speakers are involved in ongoing research that has been funded by CCAR. Paul is a professor in the Department of Physics at UofT and is the principal investigator of the Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution Network (a CCAR funded program). Laxmi is a professor in Civil Engineering and holds the Trottier Chair in Sustainability in Engineering and Design. She leads the Canadian Network for Regional Climate and Weather Processes (a CCAR funded program). James was a faculty member of the Department of Physics at UofT for over 25 years and until recently a Canada Research Chair in Remote Sounding of Atmospheres in the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science at Dalhousie University. James is also the principal investigator at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (a CCAR funded program). The discussion that took place during the town hall highlighted the need for continued funding for climate science.  

Paul kicked off with an excellent overview of the current state of climate science, namely what is settled and what is not. He reiterated some facts we are all familiar with: climate change is happening, we are causing it by releasing obnoxious amounts of things like CO2 into the atmosphere, and we need to be reducing our emissions yesterday to slow it down. He also reminded us of the important fact that climate change is having a real impact on both human and natural systems. We are not immune. He also reminded us of a few of the questions that are still hazy: how will weather extremes change? How will regional impacts vary? How can we use data for planning and prediction?

Laxmi stressed the same message, the science is settled enough to confirm we need to take action, but not settled enough to put a lid on climate research. She also brought in an important view of the power climate research can have when conducted in collaboration with end users such as NGOs and governments. This means communicating questions and answers back and forth and prioritizing research that is not only scientifically interesting, but also in high demand from organizations using the data. She also highlighted the work her and her network have been doing to deepen our understanding of how different systems interact (such as vegetation and permafrost) and what that means for climate change patterns, planning etc. With this research, we can be better prepared by understanding what temperature increases of 1.5 or 2 degrees will actually mean.

James finished off by echoing the sentiment that we must continue looking forward and keep pursuing unanswered questions. He also stressed the importance of continued investigation for the purpose of monitoring mitigation progress, and for trying to prevent unintended consequences of our actions, put simply, we can never assume we know everything.

One message resounded loud and clear throughout the presentations: the science of whether human caused climate change is happening or not, is settled. What is not settled, are many of the surrounding questions that will guide decision-making regarding both mitigation and adaptations strategies. Without continued research into climate processes, regional impacts, systemic interactions, implications of extreme events etc., decision-makers will be unable to make informed decisions about any aspect of climate policy.

So, now that you’re convinced that climate research remains critical to climate action, why not add your voice to the call for a long-term funding strategy for climate science in Canada by sending this letter to your MP.


Want to hear more? You can listen to the full town hall here.

Emma Bugg

Communications and Engagement Coordinator

Emma is passionate about social and environmental justice and has worked on climate change issues for a variety of non-profit organizations. She has worked to learn leadership and organizing skills through volunteer work, as well as through social justice leadership training programs including IMPACT!