Gordon McBean

University of Western Ontario

2015 Ambassador Award Winner

Charles R. Chappell, Lucile Jones, and Gordon McBean were awarded the 2015 Ambassador Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is in recognition for “outstanding contributions to the following area(s): societal impact, service to the Earth and space community, scientific leadership, and promotion of talent/career pool.”


Gordon’s leadership roles in the community were propelled with his appointment in 1984 as a member of the Joint Scientific Committee (JSC) for the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), mandated to plan and implement the major global climate research programs. He subsequently became the chair of JSC (1988–1994), and under his leadership WCRP implemented four major research programs in the areas of water/energy, variability/prediction, stratosphere, and Arctic/cryosphere.

While chairing WCRP and recognizing that there was little participation from the developing world in these major science programs, he helped in the creation of the -Inter-​-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and the System for Analysis Research and Training (START) for Africa and Asia. The success of both IAI and START programs in scientific capacity building in Latin America, Africa, and Asia is a testament to Gordon’s vision and leadership.

Gordon also served as Canada’s assistant deputy minister in Environment Canada, responsible for climate, weather, and air quality sciences and services and ministers’ adviser on climate change science and policy, including at the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997.

Gordon has also made significant contributions to the field of disaster risk reduction. After the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy, he chaired the scoping and planning committee that led to the establishment of the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk program.

Gordon is the current president of the International Council for Science, the leading nongovernmental science organization in the world speaking on the issues of the freedom and responsibility of scientists around the globe.

Gordon’s outstanding scientific contributions and his selfless efforts as a scientific ambassador to serve the profession and society make him an excellent recipient of this award.

—Soroosh Sorooshian, University of California, Irvine


I am very pleased and honored to have been selected for an AGU Ambassador Award for 2015. Throughout my career I have been inspired and motivated by mentors and colleagues to work together with scientists from around the world to understand and take action on the global geophysical issues of climate change, disaster risk reduction, and enhancement of research capacity around the globe. The development and implementation of these global programs, WCRP, IRDR, START, IAI, and others, were really the result of global team efforts and commitments, with all of us being motivated by our scientific interests to understand these complex issues and also to provide societies with the scientific information upon which actions can and should be made.

It has been very inspiring for me to work with many colleagues, including Professor Soroosh Sorooshian, who have contributed in many different ways to me being selected for this award. By working together, we have been able to make a much more substantial contribution to these issues—but we still have a long way to go with, for example, climate change. It is a continuing challenge for scientists to better communicate, clarify and, as appropriate, motivate our governments and societies to take action.

When writing this response, I knew that the global community will meet at the climate change Conference of the Parties 21 in Paris that is scheduled to end just before this AGU conference; but I could not really predict the outcome. As now president of the International Council for Science (ICSU), I think that it is important that we, collectively as a scientific community, speak out on these issues. We also need to address the issue of the freedom for all scientists to do science and have the support to enable their doing excellent science and connecting it to societal needs. We also need to, as a scientific community, emphasize our individual and collective responsibility of scientists.

I would like to thank AGU for this very important award and thank all my colleagues for their collective contributions to me being the recipient.

—Gordon McBean, University of Western Ontario, Ontario, Canada