Climate Science 2050

Climate Science 2050: Advancing Science and Knowledge on Climate Change is a national synthesis that was undertaken to better understand the breadth of climate change science and knowledge needs that exist in Canada. It represents an important first step in bringing the Canadian climate change science and knowledge community together to accelerate work in key areas that will ultimately inform progress toward a climate-resilient, net-zero Canada.

The Executive Summary is available below, and a complete version of the report is also available in a PDF.

Executive summary

Science and knowledge are critical in guiding the swift and ambitious action needed to build a resilient, carbon-neutral Canada. The breadth and complexity of the science and knowledge needed to meet this challenge require collaboration across disciplines, sectors, communities, and research bodies. Climate Science 2050: Advancing Science and Knowledge on Climate Change (CS2050) is a national synthesis to better understand the breadth of Canadian climate change science and knowledge gaps and guide science and knowledge producers, holders, and funders as they advance the collaborative and interdisciplinary efforts needed to inform climate action. CS2050 encompasses the natural, social, and health sciences, and recognizes the need to mobilize the full spectrum of Indigenous leadership, participation, and knowledge systems. While climate change science has traditionally focused on the natural sciences, CS2050 recognizes the need to elevate the role of social and behavioural sciences, as they have important contributions to make in informing the transformation needed in Canadian society.

Although CS2050 highlights many science and knowledge needs, there is already a strong knowledge base on which to build. The urgency of the climate change challenge means that decision makers should not and cannot wait for all the science to be in before taking action. Climate action must continue in parallel with research activities, drawing on existing knowledge and incorporating new insights as they become available. As such, knowledge synthesis and mobilization—including the dialogue they establish between knowledge producers, holders, and users—are key elements of CS2050. They will ensure decision makers have the best available knowledge and will keep research efforts aligned with user needs. These efforts could include science and risk assessments, knowledge portals, and case studies, and will benefit from increasing climate change science literacy and professional competencies.

Given the scale and urgency of the challenge, and ubiquitous nature of climate change impacts, addressing the science and knowledge needs outlined in CS2050 will require an increasingly integrated approach to advance multiple priorities in parallel. It will also benefit from embracing new and participatory approaches to research and knowledge development (e.g., experimentation, learning by doing, co-production) and from the respectful consideration of Indigenous Knowledge. The science and knowledge needs covered by CS2050 are organized into four outcomes, with a fifth area of work—Earth system climate science—providing a key foundation.

Earth system climate science – Work is needed to reduce uncertainties related to the magnitude, timing, and impacts of future change and the prediction of climate extremes, floods, droughts, and wildfires. This research will enable a better understanding of the influence of climate change on permafrost, glaciers, oceans, ice (sea, river, lake), and freshwater. It is also central to providing more detailed and tailored sector-based information. Research is also needed to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation efforts (e.g., short-lived climate forcers, climate engineering).

Healthy and resilient Canadians, communities, and built environments – Developing a nuanced understanding of vulnerability, resilience, and empowerment—and how these vary across regions and groups—will help ensure efforts to build health and resilience are effective. Work is also needed to protect and improve the health and well-being of Canadians and increase the resilience of health systems, including a better understanding of climate-related health risks, intersections with action in other sectors (e.g., transportation, urban planning), and innovative and scalable interventions that maximize resilience and empower behavioural change. Building climate-resilient communities and infrastructure will benefit from research into natural infrastructure, community design, the value and co-benefits of resilient infrastructure solutions, and essential infrastructure systems (e.g., energy, water, transportation). There is also a need to understand the climate impacts on governance, trade, global migration patterns, and development and international assistance.

A carbon-neutral society – Accelerating the transformational change needed to meet and exceed Canada’s 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goal under the Paris Agreement and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 will require a deeper understanding of the social and behavioural side of decarbonization. Research to understand decarbonization pathways will be valuable, including work related to a just transition and the economic aspects of carbon neutrality. Energy decarbonization is a key research area, as is work to understand the mitigation potential of infrastructure construction and management approaches. In moving toward net-zero emissions, research is needed to help protect and enhance terrestrial and aquatic carbon sinks, from fundamental carbon cycle science to research aimed at developing socio-economic levers and best practices.

Resilient terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems – To ensure Canada’s ecosystems remain healthy and resilient, research is needed to improve our foundational understanding of the impacts of climate change on the processes that underpin healthy ecosystems, the sensitivity, resilience, and adaptive capacity of species and ecosystems, and the effects of changing stressors and their cumulative impact on biodiversity and ecosystems. Work will also be needed to anticipate and minimize the threats to vulnerable species and ecosystems, as well as efforts to develop and test adaptation measures. Nature can also be a powerful ally in addressing climate change, and work is needed to address knowledge gaps related to identifying and deploying nature-based solutions, such as research into potential negative effects, socio-economic and cultural valuations and trade-offs, and the impact of extreme events on these solutions when implemented.

Sustainable natural resources – Helping the agricultural, forestry, fisheries, water management, mining, and energy sectors—and the traditional lifestyles connected to these industries—remain resilient and productive in the face of climate change requires a better understanding of the risks climate change poses (e.g., extreme events, water availability, pests, disease, invasive species). Meanwhile, as some resource-based communities navigate a just transition, social science research can help to understand the social, cultural, and economic impacts of this transformation. Furthermore, an integrated understanding of natural resource and land/water goals and opportunities will help maximize co-benefits (e.g., advancing carbon sequestration, health, energy, and food security simultaneously). Canada’s natural resource sectors will also benefit from research to inform climate-smart, sustainable practices.

Three key areas of foundational capacity are essential in supporting work across all science and knowledge needs identified in CS2050. Whether carried out on the ground or via satellites, monitoring and surveillance efforts continue to be key in providing situational awareness, assessing change, informing action, and measuring progress. The magnitude and diversity of climate change data and knowledge will require advances in digital infrastructure (e.g., data storage and management, high-performance computing), including tools for data management, extraction, manipulation, visualization, standardization, and interoperability. Finally, ensuring climate change science is open and accessible will increase transparency, maximize investments, and accelerate progress.

CS2050 represents an opportunity to make deliberate decisions about climate change science and knowledge activities and funding in Canada, which will be essential in guiding the way to a resilient, carbon-neutral society.

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