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Gordon McBean (centre) is pictured in this January 19, 2007 file photo.The Globe and Mail/Glenn Lowson

Canada's stature in the global science community got a big lift Friday when Gordon McBean, one of Canada's top climate change scientists, was elected president of the International Council for Science (ICSU).

Mr. McBean was elected in a vote held in Rome at the ICSU's general assembly, beating an Italian candidate. The votes were cast by the organization's 121 members, who represent national scientific bodies.

Several scientific groups, among them the National Research Council of Canada and the International Geographical Union, lobbied hard for Mr. McBean's election. He becomes the first Canadian to fill the post since the ICSU, which is based in Paris, was founded in 1931 (another Canadian was once elected, but died before he took office).

Under the ICSU's eccentric rules, Mr. McBean will become a member of the organization's executive board immediately but not actually take over the president's job until the next general assembly in 2014.

Mr. McBean, 68, is a professor at the University of Western Ontario and has a densely packed resume in the fields of climate change and disaster risk reduction related to climate change. He is chairman of START, an organization that studies the affects of climate change in Africa and the Asia-Pacific area, and was a lead author of the International Panel on Climate Change report that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He was also a lead author of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

The ICSU is funded through contribution from national scientific bodies and does not pay its president. Nor does it fund research. Instead, it identifies issues of global scientific importance, shapes its direction and promotes the creation of networks of scientists with similar interests. It also organizes scientific workshops and conferences.

In a chat just before the vote, Mr. McBean said he wanted to make the ICSU less bureaucrat and raise its international profile. Not surprisingly, he plans to promote research on environmental change, with an emphasis on adaptation. "We have to adapt because there is almost nothing we can do about climate change in the next forty years," he said. "Even if we were to cut out C02 emissions, temperatures will rise because there is so much CO2 in the system."

Rising waters and its effects on burgeoning costal cities, from Vancouver to Lagos, are of particular interest to him.

ICWU conferences are held every three years. His plan is to hold the 2017 conference in Canada as part of the country's 150th anniversary events.