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Maurice Strong: a study in leadership - Documentation

The Secretariat received written contributions from a variety of sources, including national reports, basic papers prepared by specialized agencies, case studies, and reports from the intergovernmental working groups and many interested NGOs. By the end of August 1971, this amounted to 72 national reports, 125 basic papers and several case studies (totalling 7,000 pages) and represented in itself a major international policy-shaping effort. As such, this was a most tangible result of Strong’s “process is the policy” philosophy.27/ By the time of the Conference, the total number of national reports had risen to 85. 28/ Specialized agency papers: When it came to materials intended for the Conference itself, Strong introduced another novelty. He reversed earlier plans for the specialized agencies to take responsibility for the preparation of conference papers in their spheres of responsibility.29/ Instead, he directed that all papers should originate from the Conference Secretariat, which would take the responsibility for them and place them before the Conference. The agencies thus made their contributions to the Secretariat and not directly to the Conference. This ensured that a unified and coherent perspective was presented, in line with the original aim to provide a common outlook and direction for the international environmental efforts.

Although they were unhappy with the change in the documentation procedure, Strong managed to keep workable relations with the specialized agencies during the rest of the preparatory process. However, they generally maintained their restrictive attitude in the institutional area.30/ These tensions were gradually building up and erupted during the Conference itself.

National reports: The Secretariat played a significant role with lasting effects in the preparation of the national reports and their analysis. This process was greatly assisted by the visits by Strong or his representatives to many countries and the generous financial assistance given by a group of industrialized countries, particularly the core group behind the Conference.

The Conference Secretariat’s analysis of the national reports and the basic papers constituted the first-ever global survey of the environmental situation. In one of its conclusions, water emerged as the global issue accorded the highest priority by governments.31/

The preparation of national reports vastly increased the governments’ knowledge about the situations in their own countries. It also was a major stimulus to national involvement in the preparations as well as post-Conference institution building.

The preparation process, however, required both considerable lead time and persistent efforts to achieve desired results. This early experience would have general relevance for later processes, up to the Johannesburg Summit.

27. Message Swedel Gva 1971-08-30. The material received by August 1971 served as the basis for the compilation resulting in the draft Action Plan during the autumn of 1971; Herter and Judy, p. 22, indicate the figure of 20,000 pages, which could include the total material received up to the time of the Conference itself.

28. Speech by Maurice Strong at Edinburgh University, 1972-01-19.

29. Message Swedel Genève 1971-07-07, letter author - Bäckstrand 1971-08-03, Herter and Judy, p. 23.

30. Letter Rydbeck-Jödahl 1971-03-24.

31. Message Swedel Gva 1971-08-30.