Environment Canada's science strategy 2014-2019: chapter 1
1. The science of Environment Canada
People are the heart of Environment Canada’s science. Scientific and technical professionals represent over half of the Department’s workforce. They include research scientists, physical scientists, engineers, biologists, chemists, meteorologists, technologists and science managers, among others. Environment Canada maintains an in-house scientific workforce because science is so central to delivering the Departmental mandate. Environment Canada’s highly skilled scientific and technical workforce possesses the expertise necessary to continually produce cutting-edge science.
The Department’s internal science capacity is significantly increased through extensive collaboration across Canada and internationally. Environment Canada’s scientists are part of an international community of environmental scientists, collaborating with leading global institutions such as the World Meteorological Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address common environmental issues. Many Department scientists work closely with other federal departments and levels of government, as well as maintain formal collaborative relationships with universities, including adjunct professorships. Over three quarters of the Department’s peer reviewed scientific publications are written in collaboration with partners in universities and other organizations outside of government. Collaborating on research projects with other top institutions helps Environment Canada stay at the leading edge of scientific inquiry to inform its policies, programs and services. This effort to support the excellence and collaborative nature of science in support of federal priorities contributes to the goal of Destination 2020 to ensure the Public Service remains a world-class institution.
Scientists at Environment Canada also work closely with Aboriginal governments, organizations and communities, considering perspectives reflecting Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge along with scientific research. For example, Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge offers long-term and historical perspectives on local ecologies and improves understanding of multi-species interactions in those ecologies, especially at times of the year and during cycles of the species when departmental scientists are not normally present. For example, Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge can offer observations on wildlife characteristics such as behaviour, habitat use and distribution, plus the changes in these parameters over time, as well as identify areas for further scientific work.
Environment Canada’s scientific and technical infrastructure is a critical national resource. The Department’s scientific workforce performs, accesses and uses science across Canada at world-class research and development facilities, monitoring sites, storm prediction centres, in the field and in offices. The Department relies on environmental monitoring infrastructure to deliver weather forecasts, monitor air and water quality, and conduct scientific research. These and other functions support a variety of important decisions - to help protect lives, to support economic sectors sensitive to changes in weather and climate, to protect Canada’s environmental heritage and to mitigate losses of species and habitats.
Environment Canada is consistently regarded as a world leader in environmental science, publishing over 700 peer-reviewed scientific articles per year in recent years, including in top-tier scientific journals. The Department’s research publications are cited at a rate that is well above the world average. Canadians consistently turn to Environment Canada for the accuracy and reliability of its weather forecasts. The Department’s monitoring data are used extensively by other jurisdictions in Canada, private sector organizations and the wider academic science community.
As a federal science-based department, Environment Canada is unique among Canadian institutions that perform environmental science in that it has the mandate to perform science targeted to serve federal environmental priorities. The Department’s science spans a range of activities, such as short- and long-term monitoring and surveillance, research and development, modelling, risk assessment, reporting and client-driven applications. Annual planning continuously aligns these activities with the Department’s mandate and current environmental priorities, as well as assesses operational efficiency and value for money.
Science underpins most of the Department’s functions, including its commitment to be a world class regulator, its enforcement activities, its weather services and its policy development functions. Much of Environment Canada’s science addresses legislative obligations, such as requirements under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (sections 44-53) that the Minister conduct research and studies related to the effects of pollution on environmental quality and pollution prevention, as well as maintain a system for monitoring environmental quality. Science also supports the Department’s regulatory authorities, such as those under the Fisheries Act to prevent harmful materials from being released into waterways. All science undertaken by Environment Canada is directed to contribute to achieving the Department’s three Strategic Outcomes - to maintain a clean, safe and sustainable environment - as described in the Department’s annual performance documents, the Report on Plans and Priorities and the Departmental Performance Report. The following sections briefly describe and provide examples of the core science Environment Canada undertakes within each outcome to deliver results.
Clean - minimizing threats to Canadians and their environment from pollution
Environment Canada’s science supports substance and waste management, actions on climate change and clean air, and regulatory enforcement. Core science activities in this area include identifying and assessing the risks of existing and emerging chemicals of concern, monitoring and reporting ambient air quality and water pollution, producing Canada’s National Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the National Pollutant Release Inventory, research and development on atmospheric chemistry and processes, and estimating emissions from transportation and industrial sectors.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
Environment Canada’s science helps protect Canadians from harmful chemicals, a mandate the Department has under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). In 2008, following a rigorous scientific assessment based on existing literature by Environment Canada and Health Canada, the government published the Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers Regulations to limit the use of some of these chemical compounds in the Canadian market. The scientific assessment found that PBDEs, which are used as flame retardants in a wide variety of products, are toxic to the environment. Some forms of PBDEs accumulate over time in organisms and the environment, possibly leading to chronic effects even with low exposures. The goal for these substances is, in regulatory language, “virtual elimination” from the Canadian environment. Science and risk management continue to target additional PBDE compounds to regulate those which, based on sound science, are found to be harmful.
Safe - equipping Canadians to make informed decisions on changing weather, water and climate conditions
Environment Canada’s science helps provide Canadians and Canadian economic sectors such as agriculture and transportation with relevant information on immediate and long-term environmental conditions. Core science activities include tools and techniques to improve weather, air and water forecasting and prediction, global and regional climate modelling, and research and development on atmospheric and environmental processes.
Severe weather forecasts
Canadians are no strangers to severe weather. Winter storms - blizzards, heavy snowfalls and freezing rain - wreak havoc on transportation across the country. As scientists observe climatic changes, one expected outcome is more frequent and more severe weather events. Atmospheric science is central to providing accurate and timely severe weather forecasts and warnings for Canadians. Environment Canada’s scientists and meteorologists develop complex weather models that are run on one of Canada’s fastest supercomputers. The Department of the Environment Act and the Emergency Management Act give Environment Canada the mandate to build scientific tools, products and science-based services to help Canadians and weather-sensitive sectors prepare for and respond to emergencies and manage weather-related risks.
Sustainable - conserving and restoring Canada’s natural environment for present and future generations
Environment Canada’s science informs decisions that help maintain and restore Canada’s land, water, and biodiversity resources. Core science activities include studying the quality and availability of Canada’s vast water resources, including major waterways such as the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg and the St. Lawrence River, and researching and modelling species at risk and other wildlife to understand ecosystem health.
In 2012, the Government of Canada issued a recovery strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Boreal population (boreal caribou). The recovery strategy is based on science and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge and offers a strong, practical approach to conserving caribou populations. Success in implementing the strategy and recovering boreal caribou depends on the commitment, collaboration and cooperation of many different constituencies - provincial governments, Aboriginal communities, industry stakeholders, academics, environmental non-governmental organizations, and the wider Canadian public - all of whom are engaged in work to protect this important species.
Science and technology are intimately connected. Modern environmental science relies on technological tools to study, monitor and understand the natural environment, and technology innovation can reduce impacts on the environment.
Scientists at Environment Canada develop and use a range of tools and measurement devices (i.e., technologies) to support their scientific activities, monitor the environment (air, water, soil, biodiversity) and produce forecasts and predictions. For example, environmental monitoring exploits a variety of technologies, from tools to measure environmental parameters and collect field samples to the computational infrastructure to analyze, transform and apply the data they collect. In some cases, Environment Canada purchases such technologies and then builds them into Departmental systems and operations. In other cases, the Department develops technologies in-house, often in collaboration with scientists in other sectors.
Environment Canada scientists undertake studies to understand and identify environmental risks and benefits associated with technologies. This information supports risk management actions including the development of environmental regulations.
Environment Canada scientists carry out environmental technology performance studies and develop methods and risk management tools to support regulatory development and enforcement. The Department also supports clean technology development through a variety of programs and collaborations and promotes and drives clean technological innovation in other sectors by developing policies and regulations that act as incentives to improve environmental performance.
The Science Strategy takes a broad view of science that includes the use and development of technologies integral to the Department’s scientific work, as well as assessing technologies and developing tools to support regulations.
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