N.B.: The detail displayed about each honorary degree recipient varies, as
the database was compiled from a variety of sources. However, more information may
be available at the University Archives.
Convocation date: May 25, 1994
Discipline / contribution: international service ; human rights; environment
Citation / biographical information:
Eminent Chancellor, on behalf of the Council and Senate, I present to you Elizabeth Dowdeswell.Degree received: Doctor of Laws
Ms. Dowdeswell was born in the County of Antrim in Northern Ireland and brought up in an Ulster Scot tradition that puts great emphasis on scholastic achievement. Her family, father a United Church Minister and mother a school teacher, emigrated to Canada when she was five, settling in Southern Saskatchewan and her childhood influences were those common to the smaller towns (Sceptre. Young, Strasbourg and Briercrest) in that region; she played an active role in and understood community life. Indeed she worked for the Extension Division, as a 4H specialist each May to September when she was completing a degree in Home Economics degree and teaching certificate at this University.
Upon graduation she became a teacher and counsellor in the Swift Current Comprehensive School, finding time as well to upgrade and to complete an M.Sc. in behavioural science at Utah State University by 1972. Following a year as a lecturer in economics and marketing at the University of Alberta she returned to the Saskatchewan Department of Education as a consumer education consultant and later as the Human Rights Ombudsman before being put in charge of federal/provincial education matters. She moved to Ottawa in 1982 to work first with the Treasury Board and then with Environment Canada. After directing the Ontario office of Environment Canada, she became Assistant Deputy Minister of the Atmospheric Environment Service. Her job required community involvement and an understanding of the socioeconomic aspects of global change as she helped develop public services such as the Ozone Watch and the UV-B Index. She was Canada's representative to the World Meteorological Organization and in 1992 again represented Canada as principle delegate to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the Earth Summit Conference in Rio de Janeiro. At Rio, as co-chair of a working group on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, her leadership helped confirm Canada's position in the forefront of world sustainable development. During the negotiations, Ms. Dowdeswell continually pushed for innovative ground- breaking and sound solutions. Her capacity to positively engage people, often with widely divergent and competing views, in finding mutually acceptable solutions, was a hallmark. It therefore should come as no surprise to no one except herself to find that six months after Rio she was appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and was asked to combine this with the position of Executive Director of the United Nations HABITAT Programme. Obviously many nations share her vision that UNEP must become a catalyst for sustainable development, not just environmental protection, and that for any nation, rich or poor, a healthy environment and a sound economy are closely linked. As under-secretary general to Dr. Boutras-Boutras Ghali, Elizabeth Dowdeswell is the highest ranking Canadian and the most senior of a handful of women to top UN positions.
The University community takes pleasure in congratulating Ms. Dowdswell on an interesting and colourful career which has embraced environments of different hues from the Green Glens of Antrim, the golden wheat fields of Saskatchewan to the vibrant tropical Kenyan highlands. We wish her good fortune in the challenging task ahead.
Eminent Chancellor, I present to you Elizabeth Dowdeswell, and ask that you confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Degree presented by: John Stewart, Dean of Agriculture
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