Remembering Maurice Strong, who tried to solve global warming decades ago

He called out climate change at a summit, decades before the latest one in Paris. Maurice Strong’s death on the eve of the conference reminds us to be skeptical.

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.  (AP Photo/Osamu Honda, File)

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. (AP Photo/Osamu Honda, File)

Maurice Strong, who died a few days ago at 86, was a figure of endless intrigue around politics and business for decades, but never more so than in the early 1990s. As secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Strong was the driving force at that time behind the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which started what we now know has been an endlessly frustrating struggle to come to grips with global warming.

In 1990, I interviewed him for the Financial Post about his preparations for Rio. On his death, I looked up that old Q&A and found his answers strikingly relevant to what’s being talked about this week at the UN’s latest climate change confab in Paris, called COP21. For instance, Strong said the “biggest single issue” was figuring out how the rich, developed countries would come up with sufficient billions to compensate poor, developing ones for building their economies with low carbon emissions. (He suggested dedicated taxes!) We still haven’t come close to solving that one.

He also said clear targets for cutting emissions would be needed, although of course everything wouldn’t be settled at the Rio summit alone. “But we do have to establish the basis for a major shift in direction,” he said. In all the years since, I don’t think anything that qualifies as a “major shift” has occurred. Weaning the world off fossil fuels has proven too painful, a topic on which Strong was surprisingly blunt, way back then. “It’s going to be disruptive; it’s going to change the status quo; it’s going to change competitive advantage,” he said.

Few leaders are willing to use words like “disruptive” these days, preferring platitudes about how economic growth and environmental protection go hand in hand. Still, far from projecting any sense of alarm, what Strong conveyed in 1990 (at least to an inexperienced reporter) was a magisterial sense of command over this daunting challenge. Climate change was just too dire too be ignored. It followed that a process was needed to forge a solution. Therefore, that is what would be done. He was, in fact, doing it.

Strong’s track record made it plausible that he might succeed. He had moved effortlessly between spheres of influence, from being president of Power Corp. in the 1960s to setting up the UN Environment Programme in the 1970s. Adjusting the globe’s thermostat seemed well within his technocratic range.

But what has happened since? Between 1990, when Strong made such an impression on me, and 2011, global greenhouse gas emissions soared 42 per cent, while Canada’s climbed 19 per cent.

And once again, at Paris just as it was at Rio, the talk is about this being the moment when the world must set itself a new course. Finally. Strong’s death on the eve of the latest conference compels us to be skeptical. Admirable though it was, his contribution wasn’t enough. The process he trusted—rational decision-making among determined decision-makers—has been vastly outgunned by entrenched economic interests.

We have no choice but to keep trying, although I doubt any UN mandarin today could convincingly hold forth on the prospects of success with Strong’s aplomb of a quarter-century ago.


Remembering Maurice Strong, who tried to solve global warming decades ago

  1. Again, no mention of Strong’s ties to the Oil-for-food scandal, and the money he made off of an illegal oil smuggling scheme. The bonus question is why would someone who is supposedly so dead set against the use of carbon-based energy be involved in helping to facilitate the illegal purchase of said products against the wishes of the very world agency to which he is so closely tied?
    I’ll take “lying, socialist scum” for $300, Alex.
    Bonus bonus- Why are so many “socialists” exceptionally wealthy? How does a person who is supposedly opposed to capitalism, amass a substantial personal fortune?
    Geddes, try committing some actual journalism. Holy crap.

    • Bill Greenwood, Why do you right wingers insist on saying that socialists are opposed to capitalism. In today’s world socialism equals social democracy. Look at the Scandinavian countries, for example. Norway, especially. Capitalist social democracies.
      Instead, you look in horror at the old Russian and Chinese pseudo-marxist societies.
      It’s 2015, man.

      • Norway is hemorrhaging taxpayers, which is the common result of the kind of socialism so vaunted by the left. What the left fails to grasp is that socialism is always- always- a one way street. The failures of socialism are met with, wait for it, more socialism. Regulatory failures always bring more regulations and more punitive penalties to back up those regulations. More regulations require more regulators, and more regulators require more taxes.
        What the left fails to grasp is that every one of those layers strips away someone’s freedom. Every one of those layers strips away one more branch of economic opportunity, until no freedom OR opportunity exists.
        It is the profound failure of leftist intellect that leaves most on the left unable to grasp that, just as a mountain eventually erodes down to flatland, the inexorable growth of the state means that the end game of socialism is the emergence of an all-powerful state which tolerates no opposition.

  2. On the Climate file, Maurice was working against human greed, so
    he didn’t have a chance. This conference is success will be founded
    on “fairness” on economic development of Developing Nations
    vs. the Developed’s ability to pay them not-to-use fossil fuels to
    increase their economy.
    If a solution could based on trusting “Greed” to make it go, then it
    would have a chance.
    I have been researching another direction to the prevailing focus.
    Instead of reducing fossil fuels, we considered how to bury carbon
    faster than it could be extracted. Also, we needed some “Greed” to
    power the action.
    Drought is an effect of CC. Reducing drought’s impact on crops by
    putting carbon in the soil to retain WATER seemed scalable enough.
    So, Biochar timidly enters the scene with huge potential to mitigate
    and remediate Agriculture. In California, biochar reduced water by
    50%, while still producing greater yields than usual.

    Carbon Negative Economy:
    “Ephemeral” biomass rots away real fast, munched by bacteria,
    returning a few minerals – Now, if biochar is produced from
    INSTEAD biochar organically sequesters 50% of the carbon for a
    long time, and the combustible gasses can power thermal
    applications. The overall process is avoiding emissions from
    natural sources, resulting in Net CO2 removal from the air, oceans.
    So, maybe we can fix CC by accident? (the way we caused it!)
    More details on my blog: ( ExtremeMadScience . blogspot . ca )

  3. Maurice Strong was a typical Liberal Hypocrite. He was a socialist/ Marxist, but only with other peoples’ money. he was President of Power Corp……which is basically the real face of the Liberal party (according to Andrew Coyne).

    Strong was just another dirt bag getting extremely wealthy by scaring the ignorant masses, and making the rest of us pay for it. He won’t be missed.

  4. Oh man. I can’t believe you didn’t mention that the capitalist and businessman was actually the commie leader of the secret cabal that wants to use the UN and climate change fraud to control us all (and somehow Oil-For-Food fits in there somewhere), or something. Only Glenn Beck is smart enough to explain it all:


    • Glenn beck is an idiot. I’m sure you know that.

      I have never wasted time by watching him.

      but then again…you are an idiot too. I’m not sure you know that yet. (but I’m sure everyone else does)

      • Yeah, I guess you’re right.
        Only an idiot would would believe Maurice Strong was a marxist and part of a massive worldwide conspiracy to get rich by convincing people that fundamentally altering the earth’s atmosphere and climate is a bad idea.
        What was I thinking.

        • As usual Tresus….

          You aren’t thinking. that is my point.

          You think you are…..but anyone reading your idiotic, predictable comments already knows that you are not.

          but keep trying. It’s cute watching the new ones try to learn to walk with the grown ups.

          • Get to work on that paper! Only you can overturn the work of the world’s climate scientists and save us from the socialist conspiracy!

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