Investing in Canadian Climate Science

June 26, 2019

An assessment of the state of Canadian climate science based on a survey of climate scientists

"Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced and in order to deal with it Canadian climate science requires a clear strategy of investment in infrastructure and academic research." Dr. Tristan MacLean, report author, Evidence for Democracy

Investing in Canadian Climate Science

The report is based on interviews and a survey of 84 climate scientists along with analysis of grant funding databases. The survey included 40 questions related to the research of climate scientists, research funding, infrastructure and government policy.

Key Findings

Climate science funding

  • Climate scientists expressed a need for long-term, mid-sized grants (approximately CAD$1 million per year) for climate and atmospheric research in Canada.
  • 97% of climate scientists think that funding in the field should be increased, with most saying funding should be increased a lot (76%) and some saying a little (21%).
  • Climate scientists preferred small to mid-sized grants; 86% would like to see more funding for projects of CAD$1 million or less.

Funding strategies

  • When asked whether government funding strategies were sufficient, 82% of respondents expressed concerns about the current funding approach: “We need continuity in climate science-specific funding in order to maintain vital long-term monitoring programs and to attract and retain HQP (highly qualified personnel).”
  • The way funding for climate science is disbursed is not suitable for the way climate science is conducted; it does not promote innovation and discovery, and it does not support scientists and staff at different career stages.

Collaborations

  • 94% of respondents recommended more funding for government-academic collaborations, but not just for climate science. The need for more collaboration across scientific disciplines is appreciated by a majority of researchers (65%).

Climate science expertise

  • Climate scientists report a loss of highly trained individuals as a result of the federal government approach to funding science. 77% of surveyed climate scientists say that highly qualified personnel have left the field.

Resources and infrastructure

  • Canadian scientists rely on foreign resources, such as satellites, aircraft and ships. Only 6% of climate scientists surveyed did not rely on foreign resources, while they were extremely or very important for 63% of the scientists.

Recommendations

Supporting climate scientists

  • Provide more support for the next generation of climate scientists through clear career paths, small pots of funding to support early career researchers, and funds for support staff.

Planning for the future

  • Establish a climate science funding strategy that meets the needs of this diverse, multidisciplinary area of research over the long term.
  • Improve funding structures (e.g., timing of announcements, eligibility, size of awards).
  • Develop more monitoring stations.
  • Include climate science in long-term plans for icebreakers, research aircraft and satellites (existing satellites and the associated expertise are aging, there is a high demand for ship access, and lack of naval resources have impacted Canadian climate science).

Using data to improve climate science

  • Develop improved definitions and measures for “climate science” in order to assess funding, monitor progress and evaluate policy.
  • Provide climate scientists with better access to climate data, as exemplified by the following comments:
    • “Federal government needs to make seamless remote sensing data freely available.”
    • “Better access to Canadian datasets -- something like a Canadian NCDC (US National Climatic Data Center).”

Supplementary materials:

Climate Science Funding in Canada Survey Questions

DOI list of publications from CCAR funding

Sources of funding submitted to the Canadian Climate Science Funding Survey

Competitive funding programs accessed by climate scientists

Climate science Fields of Research

Policy documents featuring Canadian climate science arising from CCAR funding