Tom Hanson/ The Canadian PressMaurice Strong, then special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, in 2003. The head of the U.N.’s environmental agency says Strong, whose work helped lead to the landmark climate summit that begins in Paris on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, has died. He was 86.
Maurice Strong has died at the age of 86. Multi-faceted does not begin to describe his life. More than any other individual, he was responsible for promoting the climate agenda with which negotiators are struggling this week at the UN meeting in Paris.
Osamu Honda/ Associated Press In a March 17, 1997 file photo, Maurice Strong, left, executive coordinator for United Nations reform, stands with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, during a news conference, at the U.N. The head of the U.N.’s environmental agency says Strong, whose work helped lead to the landmark climate summit that begins in Paris on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, has died.
Strong also played a major role in Canadian affairs. When he celebrated his 85th birthday in Toronto last year, he was surrounded by Canada’s left liberal elite — from former prime minister Paul Martin to former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband John Ralston Saul.
Martin had been an employee and protégé of Strong. Ralston Saul had been chief aide to Strong when Strong was the first chairman, president and CEO of state oil company Petro-Canada, just one of many executive positions in a remarkable career.
Clarkson claimed that Strong had “invented the environment.” While that may have been somewhat exaggerated, he did play a critical role in promoting political responses to environmental concerns. As a lifelong socialist, he saw the potential of the environmental movement to fight capitalism and introduce a system of “global governance” that would co-ordinate all human activity.
Before the last great failed attempt to come up with a global climate agreement, at Copenhagen in 2009, which took place at a time of economic turmoil, Strong said: “The climate change issue and the economic issue come from the same roots. And that is the gross inequity and the inadequacy of our economic model. We now know that we have to change that model. We cannot do all of this in one stroke. But we have to design a process that would produce agreement at a much more radical level.”
Richard Drew/ The Canadian PressThe late Maurice Strong, special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on North Korea, strains to hear a question outside the Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003.
“We must,” he had suggested earlier, “devise a new approach to co-operative management of the entire system of issues… We are all gods now.” (Oh really? Yes, the builders of the Titanic had the same attitude.)
Strong was reputed to be a Buddhist, but when Pope Francis issued his climate encyclical earlier this year, he praised Strong’s Earth Charter, a manifesto of green revolution co-signed by Mikhail Gorbachev, as a document that “asked us to leave behind a period of self-destruction and make a new start.”
Maurice Strong’s own start was extremely modest. He was born in poverty during the Depression in Oak Lake, Manitoba, and escaped home as soon as he could. Pursuing a picaresque early career, he bounced from cabin boy to junior fur trader to United Nations functionary to oil analyst.
He started his own oil company and wound up running Montreal-based Power Corp. at an extraordinarily young age. While he would continue to dabble in business throughout his life, his first love, and prime objective, was acquiring power in pursuit of a “better world.”
Calgary Herald File Photo, CALGARY, AB: March 23, 2009 Maurice Strong January 1976 (Calgary Herald File Photo / ) ( For City section story by )A 1976 file photo of Maurice Strong, a man who influenced Pierre Trudeau and was lauded by Justin Trudeau when news of Strong’s death broke.
From Power Corp. he moved to Ottawa and set up in the Canada International Development Agency, CIDA. His amazing networking abilities led him to be asked to organize the first great UN conference on the global environment, at Stockholm in 1972. A glowing profile in the New Yorker described him as “Captain of Spaceship Earth.”
After Stockholm he because the first head of the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, one of the parents of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, the body set up to examine man-made climate change.
He was a key member of the Brundtland Commission, which promoted the notion of sustainable development, whose fundamental rationale was that (relatively) free markets were unsustainable.
In 1992, on the 20th anniversary of Stockholm, he ran the giant UN conference in Rio de Janeiro on the environment and development, which was attended by more world leaders than any previous event. Out of Rio emerged the Kyoto Protocol, to which Paris is still seeking a successor agreement.
One reason Strong was adulated within the UN system was his skill in conceiving agendas, initiatives, studies, meetings and new institutions
Strong had extraordinary influence in the business community, where he set up the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. He was also a significant promoter of the World Economic Forum, whose annual conference at Davos became an unprecedented example of elite networking.
He was at one time chief adviser both to UN Secretary General Secretary General Kofi Annan and to World Bank head Jim Wolfensohn, another of his proteges. Annan put him in charge of UN reform, where Strong cleverly turned what was meant to be a belt-tightening exercise into a program for expansion. He ran relief programs in Africa, and negotiated with North Korea.
One reason Strong was adulated within the UN system was his skill in conceiving agendas, initiatives, studies, meetings and new institutions.
Paris, for example, is the twenty-first “Conference of the Parties” (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC, but it is just one of a much broader series of seemingly-endless international get-togethers.
While spinning off do-good schemes at an astonishing rate, Strong continued to be involved in both public and private business. Apart from Petrocan, he ran the giant utility Ontario Hydro for a period. His private business affairs, like his public ones, were marked by constant controversy.
Ng Han Guan/ The Canadian PressCanadian diplomat Maurice Strong, a special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, leaves the Beijing airport, China, after he arrived from Pyongyang, North Korea, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2003. He died at the age of 86.
It was one such adventure, in 2005, when he became implicated in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, that finally dented his international reputation. He claimed that he was unaware that an investment in one of his companies had been laundered from the regime of Saddam Hussein, but a subsequent inquiry suggested that if he didn’t know, he should have.’
In the wake of the scandal he moved to Beijing, (who but an extreme socialist would want to?) where he had long had connections. For a man with severe asthma problems, it seemed a strange choice, but Strong found China’s political atmosphere amenable.
One of the most remarkable things about Strong was how unremarkable he was in person. Somebody once said that you wouldn’t pick him out of a crowd of two.
He took scarcely-concealed delight in explaining his often Machiavellian political manoeuvrings
Nevertheless, he was an avuncular and likeable figure, even to those who disagreed strongly with his world view, as I did. I interviewed him numerous times over a 20-year period, and found that he took scarcely-concealed delight in explaining his often Machiavellian political manoeuvrings.
Meanwhile his perennially sunny demeanour contrasted starkly with his grim vision, not just of the present, but of the projected state of the world. (Like Rachel Carson, Paul R Erlich (Author: “The Population Bomb”. Paul and Rachel and all the other naysayers were wrong. The present alarmists are in the process of being proven wrong right now, every month when the overall temperature of the world, again does NOT RISE, they are proven to be purveyors of fantasy)
In his 2000 autobiography, Where on Earth Are We Going?, Strong projected that, in 2031, “the human tragedy” would be “on a scale hitherto unimagined.” He wrote that the brightest prospect lay in forecasts that two-thirds of the world’s already diminished population might be wiped out.
Strong’s green agenda now blankets the globe, from the UN through national governments to municipalities
He described this as “a glimmer of hope for the future of our species and its potential for regeneration,” thus betraying a distinctly ambivalent attitude towards the humanity he claimed to be so desperate to save.
Strong’s green agenda now blankets the globe, from the UN through national governments to municipalities.
Paradoxically, Strong freely admitted that governments were incompetent, cumbersome and resistant to change. He also acknowledged that the UN was marked by “petty politics and small-mindedness.” And yet such people were somehow to manage “the entire system of issues.”
The answer for Strong was always more power. “The single greatest weakness of the existing international legal regime,” he wrote, “is the almost total lack of capacity for enforcement.”
Resistance to such enforcement is likely to continue.
Bruno Schlumberger/ Postmedia News filesMaurice Strong in 2012. He helped shape the vision for the climate summit in Paris this week.
Strong’s passing was mourned on the weekend by key figures of the movement he did so much to create.
Current UNEP chief Achim Steiner declared “Strong will forever be remembered for placing the environment on the international agenda and at the heart of development.”
Christiana Figueres, head of the UNFCC, who will be running the Paris conference, tweeted “we thank Maurice Strong for his visionary impetus to our understanding of sustainability. We will miss you.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, already in Paris for this week’s climate meetings, declared that “Mr. Strong was an internationally recognized environmentalist and philanthropist who used his remarkable business acumen, organizational skills, and humanity to make the world a better place.” (He may have but it was not because of the green madness that he seemed to love.)
Some might argue with that glowing assessment, but there is no doubting Strong’s extraordinary influence, including with Trudeau’s father, Pierre.
Despite his myriad contradictions, Strong had an astonishing network among rulers, corporations, the “international community,” and capitalist foundations. But perhaps the most important strategic element in his promotion of the environmental agenda was his sponsorship of radical environmental non-governmental organizations, ENGOs, whose government funding and entry into international meetings he facilitated.
Whether they appreciate it or not, the environmental groups that played a key role in demonizing the oil sands and killing the Keystone XL pipeline, and who continue to stand in the way of other Canadian pipelines, are Maurice’s children. They will be present in large numbers in Paris in the next two weeks.
We should mourn the man, but continue to question his vision, which remains very much alive.