New federally funded climate institute launches after demise of national roundtable

Seven years after the Harper government eliminated funding for the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, a new federally funded institute for research and analysis on climate policy in Canada is launching. 

Canadian Institute for Climate Choices to receive $20M over 5 years

A flare stack is shown at the Imperial Oil refinery in Edmonton on Dec. 28, 2018. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Seven years after Stephen Harper's Conservative government eliminated funding for the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, a new institute for research and analysis on climate policy in Canada is launching with the assistance of federal funds.

The Liberal government will contribute up to $20 million over five years to provide for the new Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, which launched on Tuesday. 

The institute, which is to maintain independent control over its own research and reporting, is the result of a partnership between 15 climate-focused organizations that answered a federal call for proposals in 2018.

"I hope that we're able to contribute some really good, solid, evidence-based analysis and advice that looks at the issues and complexities of climate and what decisions the country is facing in a more integrated frame," said Kathy Bardswick, the institute's chief executive officer.

"The country is facing choices, and they're complex choices and they need to be well supported."

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices will be overseen by an 11-member board of directors that includes Mel Cappe, a former clerk of the Privy Council, Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Christopher Ragan, chair of the former Ecofiscal Commission.

Three expert panels — focused on adaptation, mitigation and clean growth — will inform the institute's work. Those panels are made up of some of Canada's prominent experts and voices on climate policy, including Blair Feltmate,  Nancy Olewiler, Mark Jaccard, Nicholas Rivers, Jennifer Winter, Stewart Elgie and Kathryn Harrison.

The institute's first report, also released Tuesday, provides a broad overview of global climate change, climate policy in Canada and the possible paths forward, in hopes of establishing a "starting point for a new conversation about Canada's future in a changing world."

The demise of the national roundtable

The Liberal government's move to establish and support such an organization echoes a decision made by Brian Mulroney's Conservative government to create the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy in 1988. (Its founding chair was David Johnston, the future governor general.)

Over the course of 25 years, the advisory agency produced more than 50 reports on climate change, public policy and environmental protection.

The Harper government announced its intention to eliminate funding for the roundtable — $5 million per year — in 2012.

At the time, Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent said the roundtable was no longer needed because there were other organizations producing research and analysis. But another minister, John Baird, later suggested that the Conservative government didn't approve of what the roundtable was saying.

"Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?" Baird asked, when challenged in the House of Commons.

The former roundtable is not the only example of an arm's length institution relied on for expert analysis. In the U.K., the Committee on Climate Change is an independent body that delivers annual progress reports to Parliament, in addition to other research.

"It seems like there is wave after wave of climate announcements, whether it's corporate, whether it is international policy, whether it is climate impacts, like Australia. It just seems like these issues that we're talking about are accelerating and becoming harder to manage and more complicated and more imminent in a lot of ways," said Dale Beugin, the institute's vice-president of research.

"So it feels like this is the right time to try to bring some clarity to that conversation for Canadians."

The new institute hopes to release three major reports each year, interspersed with some shorter papers, as well as regular notes and analysis, as events warrant.


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