‘The need to prepare for a radically different future than our past is clear’

26 Jun 2019

Elizabeth Bush. Image: Environment and Climate Change Canada

Elizabeth Bush, a senior climate adviser to Environment and Climate Change Canada, is helping to frame the country’s climate policies.

Since joining Environment and Climate Change Canada in 1999, Elizabeth Bush has worked at the interface of science and policy on atmospheric environment issues, but particularly the ongoing climate crisis.

She has participated as a member of Canadian delegations to meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and meetings under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

My interest in working at the science-policy interface was sparked in graduate school. I loved delving deep into science, but I also found that I was increasingly drawn to understanding how policy on environmental issues is developed.

This is why I ended up with dual master’s degrees: one in pure science and one related to environmental planning and policymaking.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

I have just completed a major project that was multiple years in the making: Canada’s Changing Climate Report. This report was the result of a large collaborative effort involving many scientists with different areas of expertise.

I was the overall project lead responsible for preparation and delivery of the report, as well as an author to the report. The report addresses the questions of how and why Canada’s climate is changing and what changes are projected for the future. It is a contribution to the national assessment process on climate change.

I am thrilled to have been part of the team, which we hope will prove to be an enormously valuable scientific resource for Canadians seeking information about Canada’s changing climate.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

Canadians know that climate change is real and that we are feeling the effects of climate change now, which will bring enormous challenges.

Our report makes clear that the magnitude of change – and the size of the challenges to our lives and livelihoods – depends on the success of Canadians and the rest of the world to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It also makes it clear that some additional climate warming is inevitable, so the need to prepare for a future that is potentially radically different than our past is clear.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

One of the major challenges in working at the science-policy interface is that scientists and policymakers tend to spend most of their time in their own spheres of work. This means it takes people with a unique set of characteristics to bridge between these two communities. Communication skills are really important, especially in terms of being able to communicate science in ways that can be readily understood by those without a lot of technical scientific background.

Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

I will answer this question with respect to working in a science-based federal government department. There is a common misconception that government work is very bureaucratic and perhaps not as exciting as working in science at a university.

While working for a large department does have some administrative challenges, the scientists that I know working for Environment and Climate Change Canada and other federal science-based departments are extraordinarily committed to and passionate about the work that they do. This is in part because they can see how their science feeds in to the development of policies and actions to address environmental problems. They know their work is important, and that it matters to Canadians.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.