- Called the “godfather of the U.N.’s 1997 Kyoto treaty”
- Leading figure in the international environmental movement and in “cap and trade”
- Received $1 million from the regime of Saddam Hussein, when it was facing UN sanctions
- Died in November 2015
Born in 1929, Maurice Strong grew up in Manitoba, Canada, and went on to hold top positions in some of North America’s largest energy corporations. Most prominently, he served as President of the Power Corporation of Canada; CEO of Canada’s national oil company, Petro-Canada (which he also helped to found); and head of Ontario Hydro, North America’s largest utility company.
In 1947, Strong took his first job as a clerk at the United Nations in New York. There, he befriended David Rockefeller, who helped to advance Strong and provided him with a network of influential contacts.
In 1970, after becoming one of Canada’s most successful corporate leaders, Strong returned to the UN to assume a succession of high-level appointments. In 1972 he headed the Stockholm Conference, which was the world body’s first environmental conference; out of this event, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was born. On December 15, 1972, the UN General Assembly elected Strong the first Executive Director of the new program.
During the three years that he led UNEP, Strong worked to establish the agency's Earthwatch network and its foundational programs: the Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS), the Global Resource Information Database (GRID), the International Environmental Information System (INFOTERRA), and the International Register for Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC). All of these were created to assess and regulate industry.
In addition, Strong’s UNEP quickly established its socialist credentials. For instance, in the 1976 report from the first World Conference on Human Settlements, UNEP stated: “Private land ownership is a principal instrument of accumulating wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable.” Accordingly, “[p]ublic ownership of land is justified in favor of the common good, rather than to protect the interest of the already privileged.” In 1976 Strong described himself as "a socialist in ideology, a capitalist in methodology." He also advocated a “collectivist global government.”
In the 1990s, Strong continued to promote the possibility of a new global order in terms of environmentalism. From 1990 to 1993, he served as Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Environment and Development. In 1992, he chaired the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, a conference which shaped new international agreements on climate change and provided the foundation for the Kyoto Protocol. Strong opened the Summit with a speech, declaring that the problem of late 20th-century capitalism was that industrialized countries had “developed and benefited from the unsustainable patterns of production and consumption which have produced our present dilemma.” He claimed that the world’s environmental ills were caused by middle-class lifestyles, including "high meat intake, consumption of large amounts of frozen and convenience foods, use of fossil fuels, appliances, home and work-place air-conditioning, and suburban housing." Asserting that such features of modern life were "not sustainable," Strong said: "A shift is necessary toward lifestyles less geared to environmentally damaging consumption patterns." "We may get to the point," he added, "where the only way of saving the world will be for industrialized civilization to collapse. Isn’t it our responsibility to bring this about?"
Also in 1992, Strong founded the Earth Council Alliance and became its longtime chairman. Through the council, Strong worked with Mikhail Gorbachev (acting as chairman of the Green Cross International) to create the Earth Charter which called for a “sustainable global society founded on the principles of respect for the Earth and life in all its diversity, economic and social justice, and a culture of peace and non-violence.” Strong declared that “the real goal of the Earth Charter is that it will in fact become like the Ten Commandments.”
Strong and Gorbachev urged the UN to adopt the Charter, which they called a “citizen-based initiative.” They pointed out, however, that if the Charter were to be implemented, it would not "be subservient to the rules of state sovereignty, demands of the free market or individual rights." Strong himself long supported global governance at the expense of national sovereignty. Environmental mandates, he said, necessitate the eventual dismantling of the power of the nation state: “It is simply not feasible for sovereignty to be exercised unilaterally by individual nation-states, however powerful. It is a principle which will yield only slowly and reluctantly to the imperatives of global environmental cooperation.”
In 1995 Strong headed a Massachusetts-based company called Molten Metal Technology, Inc. (MMTI), which claimed to have invented a process for recycling metals from waste but had failed to demonstrate that the technology could work on a commercial scale. Another MMTI leader was Peter Knight, the firm’s registered lobbyist and Al Gore’s former top Senate aide. On “Earth Day” in April 1995, Gore traveled to MMTI's headquarters and praised the firm for its environmentally responsible work. At that time, MMTI had already received more than $25 million in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research-and-development grants. And although the company had no other sources of revenue, Gore's laudatory speech caused its stock value to soar to $35 per share.
But in March 1996, MMTI's corporate officers learned that the DOE was planning to drastically cut back its funding in the near future. Between March and October 1996, seven MMTI officers—including Maurice Strong—quietly sold off $15.3 million in personal shares in the company, whose per-share value continued to hover around $35. Then on October 20, MMTI issued a press release announcing, for the first time, that its DOE subsidies would be scaled back dramatically. The next day, MMTI's stock plunged by 49%, and it eventually dwindled to a mere $5 per share. In early 1997, stockholders filed an insider-trading class action suit against MMTI and its officers. The suit closely resembled a previous insider-trading lawsuit in which Maurce Strong had also been involved.
Also during the 1990s, Strong was a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, eventually becoming the board’s co-Chair. In 1995 he was named Senior Advisor to the President of the World Bank. In 1997 he became Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and served as a special advisor to Kofi Annan, the head of the UN at that time.
During this period, Strong became involved in the UN’s Oil for Food Program. In 1997 he chaired Annan’s reform panel which reorganized the scattered Oil-for-Food administration into one centralized office. That same year, Strong received a $988,885 check, issued by a Jordanian bank and financed by Saddam Hussein's regime, which was then facing UN-imposed economic sanctions. The check was personally delivered to Strong by Tongsun Park, a South Korean businessman, who was eventually convicted in New York federal court of conspiring to bribe UN officials.
It was not until 2005 that Strong’s actions were scrutinized. Strong denied any involvement: “I had no involvement at all in Oil-for-Food ... I just stayed out of it.” He initially denied any knowledge of the check as well. But when investigators showed it to him, endorsed with his own signature, Strong stated that the money was intended for a legitimate investment. Strong was never charged in the matter, but his involvement did cast a shadow over his UN career.
Strong was a leading architect of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that set binding greenhouse gas (GHG)-reduction targets for 37 industrialized countries.
In 2000 and 2001, the Joyce Foundation, on whose board Barack Obama sat at that time, made a grant of $1.1 million to establish the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), which describes itself as “North America’s only cap and trade system for all six greenhouse gases, with global affiliates and projects worldwide.” Strong became one of CCX's nine directors. Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management, a carbon offset company, also exerts considerable influence over CCX and other carbon credit trading firms. Strong was a longtime friend of Gore and was a silent partner in Gore’s company.
Strong also served, along with Paul Ehrlich and others, as an honorary board member of the David Suzuki Foundation.
Strong died on November 28, 2015.