No one country, discipline or organization has the monopoly on new ways of thinking or novel ideas. Innovation can be most impactful when insights from diverse research disciplines, countries, cultures, political systems and knowledge systems come together. As the world is collectively facing grand challenges such as sustainability, climate change, pandemics, food insecurity and international security, there has never been such an urgent need for seeking innovative solutions. We can emerge from these challenges stronger if we look ahead, experiment, mitigate risk and build resilience during these uncertain times.
In this spirit, as leaders of Canada’s main research granting organizations, we reinforce our commitment to supporting researchers and trainees as they pursue novel ideas, approaches, and collaborations designed to help tackle complex challenges. Here are just a few examples of how we are doing this.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Imagining Canada’s Future initiative uses foresight and knowledge mobilization to identify and address emerging and future global challenges. SSHRC engages researchers, students and leaders across government, business and community sectors to seek a deeper understanding of the cultural, economic and social dimensions of issues, including Indigenous knowledge systems and the impacts of emerging technologies. The Ideas Lab, a recently introduced pilot initiative, brings together a multidisciplinary group of researchers to develop and pitch innovative project ideas. Well suited to addressing complex challenges, these workshops create new research collaborations that transcend institutional and disciplinary silos and encourage different ways of thinking. The first Ideas Lab focused on getting a better understanding of the role of the circular economy in climate mitigation and whether it offers a sustainable alternative to the current linear model of production-consumption-waste. Three successful teams emerged from the process with funding to further pursue research in circularity in the food supply chain; design for recovery, reuse and regeneration in consumer durables and emergent renewable energy products; and culture and the circular economy. In 2023, SSHRC will launch its next Ideas Lab on global heath and wellness systems.
The recent Environments and Health Signature Initiative, led by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has strengthened Canada’s international leadership in interdisciplinary environments and health research. The agency anticipates leveraging two key components for future work on climate change. First, the Environmental Urban Health Research Consortium (CANUE) houses a data hub that enables experts to improve analysis and knowledge users to take advantage of existing health and environmental data. CANUE is building capacity to study how multiple environmental factors are linked to a wide range of health outcomes. Second, the HealthyPlan. City tool focuses on heat islands and equity. Users can explore how average summer temperature and tree canopy vary across cities, and where vulnerable populations are more at risk.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is collaborating with Environment and Climate Change Canada to deliver a targeted funding call in support of Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reductions Plan. This special call supports research into greenhouse gas emissions reductions by interdisciplinary research teams, working with a range of partner organizations. NSERC is also working with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to support post-secondary research in developing technologies and crop varieties that will allow for net-zero emission agriculture, another important piece of the puzzle in the fight against climate change.
From forests to fuel cells, the Canada Foundation for Innovation has a long track record of supporting infrastructure projects that enable research in every field to help advance knowledge, understanding and action on environmental sustainability and climate change. Climate observatories like the Gault Nature Reserve in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., and major projects including the IISD Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario and the Global Water Futures Observatories in Saskatchewan, provide the cutting-edge tools researchers need to monitor changing environments. Recent funding has also supported facilities that study storm formation on Earth (WindEEE) or in the magnetosphere (SuperDARN), track marine life (Ocean Tracking Network and Ocean Networks Canada) and map the genome of animal species (Centre for Biodiversity Genomics).
Canada’s three federal research funding agencies are also working together to accelerate, expand and create novel climate-related initiatives. Collectively, under the strategic direction of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, we will soon be announcing a dedicated, first-of-its-kind International Joint Initiative for Research on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation. This call, to be launched in January 2023, will be administered by the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF), which supports interdisciplinary, high-risk/high-reward, transformative research with the potential to deliver game-changing impacts. The innovative design of the NFRF program features novel merit-review processes that reflect the objectives of each funding opportunity and flexible use of grant funds to support international collaboration.
Led by Canada, and in partnership with countries such as Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States, this international funding call acts on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report by focusing on adaptation and mitigation measures. It will support interdisciplinary and trans-sectoral research — with a requirement for community involvement — that will have a tangible impact on communities most affected by, and particularly vulnerable to, climate change, including low- and middle-income countries and Indigenous communities.
Our ongoing commitment to a broad range of novel collaborations will further strengthen the quality of Canadian research, talent and innovation. It will also help ensure that, as a nation, we are prepared to meet any challenges that lie ahead.