A Canadian climate-change research foundation is celebrating its 10th anniversary, but has already begun winding down its operations after failing to get new funding from the Harper government.

The budget crunch at the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences comes on the heels of revelations that the government is leasing out the Amundsen, a coast guard icebreaker equipped to monitor climate change in the North, to a pair of fossil-fuel companies for oil exploration in the region. "Research ships are very expensive to operate," said Gordon McBean, chairman of the foundation. "Part of [the problem] is probably indicative of the fact that we don't have research funds for research people to operate it at the time available."

Media reports earlier this week said that BP and Imperial Oil have paid at least $50,000 a day to use the ship, dedicated to the study of climate change, for six weeks over the past two years. But Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea defended the contract, explaining it was signed by Arctic-Net, a network of scientific centres, and that it was in partnership with industry.

"In this case, ArcticNet and industry were studying environment impacts associated with industrial activities," Shea said Tuesday in the House of Commons in response to questions from NDP MP Nathan Cullen. "That is very important. Everybody benefits from more science because it allows all of us to make more informed decisions for future generations."

Meanwhile, the 10-year-old foundation, which has received about $110 million in federal grants since it was created in 2000, is closing the books on all of its research projects at the end of December, but will continue to operate its office in the meantime through interest collected in its bank account.

McBean, a climate-change scientist and former assistant deputy minister at Environment Canada, said the foundation managed to keep its administrative costs low and provide more than $117 million in grants for more than 200 major scientific research projects on global warming in 37 Canadian universities.

Some of the research has helped develop tools for predicting drought in the Prairies, the role of Canadian forests, as well as improving knowledge of urban air quality, heat waves and smog, the foundation said.
McBean, who is a volunteer at the foundation, said it was essential for the existing office or another similar body to continue coordinating and funding climate-related research efforts.

He noted although climate scientists have general knowledge about global warming, there are a lot of regional details that still need to be examined.

While McBean said current Environment Minister John Baird declined invitations to meet in 2007 and 2008, the two did meet Wednesday. A spokesman for Baird stressed the government recognizes the value of climate research supported in part by the foundation. "The fact is the organization remains funded and renewed funding will be considered in the normal budget cycle," said spokesman Bill Rodgers. "The government also supports several other programs that have components which support climate research in Canada."

Harper government ends funding to climate research organization