RIP Maurice Strong – father of Sustainable Development


“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

William Shakespeare

We just heard of the passing of one of the greats of sustainable development our friend Maurice Strong.

Maurice Strong – former entrepreneur, energy company CEO, NGO, Head of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA),the first Executive Director of UNEP, Secretary-General of the UN conferences at Stockholm (1972) and at Rio (1992), author, president of the council of the UN University for Peace, and professor at Peking University – who in some ways can be said to have single-handedly invented the intergovernmental environmental and sustainable development governance process.

He dies just before the Paris Climate Summit – climate change being one of his greatest success from the original Rio Earth Summit with the Convention on Biological Diversity, Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration it can be said the 1992 Conference started the process for us to all move towards living on this planet in a more sustainable way.

In his last speech prepared for the UN General Assembly in September 2014 – which he in the end could not give. He warmed us about the challenge of Paris when he said:

“We need in Paris next year a strong climate agreement but I worry that will not be possible because of the political reality here in the United States. There hasn’t been an environment treaty ratified by the US Senate since the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

No issue is more important to the human future than that of climate change in which the political will to act cooperatively and decisively has dangerously diminished.

Indeed, it has never been more important to heed the evidence of science that time is running out on our ability to manage successfully our impacts on the Earth’s environmental, biodiversity, resource and life-support systems on which human life as we know it depends. We must rise above the lesser concerns that preempt our attention and respond to the reality that the future of human life on Earth depends on what we do, or fail to do in this generation. The time has come for action.”

We hope that our Heads of State will take up his call in the next two weeks. There couldn’t be a better way of celebrating the life of Maurice Strong than securing a great deal in Paris on climate change.

We had the pleasure to work with him on his last book ‘Only One Earth: The Long Road via Rio to Sustainable Development’.

It seems impossible to think that he is no longer with us. That we will not have his good council when we lose our way. His breadth of knowledge, his unwavering commitment to sustainable development, to environment and to multilateralism will be difficult to fill. Again from his UNGA 2014 speech the words echo so true today:

“Many of you in this room today will play a significant role in what will be achieved or not. We live in a time of great challenges on so many fronts that sometimes the issues we talk about today are lost in the noise of war and peace. But there are also great opportunities with building an inclusive and green economy that will bring jobs and a cleaner and more sustainable planet.

The roadmap that started in Stockholm, continued in Rio and Johannesburg and in Rio-20 must now become a reality. Our essential unity as peoples of the Earth must transcend the differences and difficulties which still divide us. You are called upon to rise to your historic responsibility as custodians of the planet in taking the decisions in the next year that will unite rich and poor, North, South, East and West, in a new global partnership to ensure our common future I ask you to work together to make it such for your time has come to make those changes.”

Besides the obvious professional debt, our personal thanks for the lessons learned from years of observing – up close or from a distance, sometimes as rivals but usually as friends, always with awe and admiration.

Since the original Earth Summit at Rio, we have lost some of the leading champions who helped create the sustainability movement from both in front of and behind the scenes. This book is dedicated to them: Joke Waller-Hunter, Michael McCoy, Bella Absuz, Chip Lindner, Wangari Maathai, Svend Auken, Peter Thacher, Richard Sandbrook, Ken Saro Wiwa, Anil Agarwal, Maximo Kalaw and Chico Mendes. Their contributions have helped us, inspired us and given us hope that we can move towards a more sustainable future and now Maurice joins them.


Felix Dodds and Michael Strauss

Anybody here seen my old friend Maurice?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walking’ up over the hill
With Bella, Chip and Wangari

(rephrased from Abraham. Martin and John by Richard Holler)

Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free and sustainable
Some day soon, it’s gonna be one day

 Felix Dodds and Michael Strauss

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

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