Press release

A Tribute to Howard Ferguson

January 26, 2015

By Dr. James Bruce, IISD-ELA Board member

In 1966, Howard joined the Hydrometeorology Section, Climatology Division as Head of the Special Projects Unit. Initially, the Unit focused on Meteorological Service contributions to the UN's International Hydrologic Decade (IHD) (1965–1974). Regional offices helped to instrument some 60 small river basins, for baseline and research work, with the Water Survey of Canada, Canadian Forest Service and provinces. Howard's unit oversaw this activity and subsequently published most of the hydromet research results, as well as research on other IHD projects such as the formation of anchor ice in the Niagara River that impeded power production.

With the creation of Environment Canada in 1971, and the changing of the Meteorological Service to the Atmospheric Environment Service (AES), Howard became chief of the Hydrometeorology and Environmental Impacts Division in the Atmospheric Research Directorate. Later, he became Chief of the Applications and Consultation Division. In these latter capacities he assumed increasingly important roles in the scientific/policy issues of acid rain and climate change. A bibliography in 1977 listed 484 papers and publications in hydrometeorology by staff, many written by or involving Howard. These had a very positive influence in improving the management of Canada's waters.

Helping address the issue of acid rain, Howard was a member for Canada of the key working group on Strategies Development and Implementation under the 1980 Memorandum of Intent on transboundary air pollution with the United States, and later led atmospheric transport and deposition studies for Canada. These made significant contributions to the later Canada-U.S. Agreement to control emissions causing acid rain.

It was as ADM of AES (1986–1989) that Howard's experience led to his major contributions to the understanding of climate change. He had participated in the landmark Villach Conference (1985) on greenhouse gases and climate change. In June 1988 he mobilized AES staff and the Canadian government—including Prime Minister Brian Mulroney—for the International Conference of the Changing Atmosphere. This event was held in the midst of a central North American heat wave, so most of the attention was drawn to climate change, although the Conference also dealt with acid rain, ozone layer depletion, and air pollution. The Conference statement made the first international call for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, by 20 per cent of 1988 levels before 2005. Howard subsequently represented Canada at the first two meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Howard was recruited by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1989 to organize the Second World Climate Conference in Geneva 1990. The scientific sessions, in which 700 scientists endorsed the IPCC's first report, was followed by a political-level event. This featured British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Jordan’s King Hussein and other world leaders. They called for an international agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions. The ensuing agreement, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in Rio (1992) by more than 180 countries.

In these ways, Howard Ferguson made major contributions in Canada and internationally. His wife Janet was an important support for him in these endeavours. In his death, the meteorological community has lost a scientist and leader of whom we could all feel justifiably proud. 

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.