The transnational corporate community is playing an essential role in the transition to a sustainable development pathway. They can help to demonstrate, for example, that a climate friendly, sustainable and harmonious mode of development will open up new opportunities for profit and competitive advantage.

Remarks by Maurice F. Strong at the Opening Ceremony of the Conference on Transnational Corporations and the Sustainable Development of China, held at Tianiun Dynasty Hotel

I am pleased to have this opportunity of addressing a few words to you to begin this important and timely Conference which is especially relevant to my own lifetime interest and experience in the corporate community and the sustainable development movement. This is why I have decided to spend most of my time in China at this late stage of my life, after more than forty years of visiting this great country as witness the remarkable emergence of China into one of the world's leading nations which is re-shaping the geopolitical landscape and the future prospects of the entire human community. I am convinced that our future will be determined by what we do or fail to do in the first decade of this century, and what happens here in China, will be decisive in its impacts.

The good news is that China's unprecedented economic growth has lifted more of its people out of poverty than any nation has ever done before, and opened up for all Chinese, even those who have thus far been left behind, the prospects of a better life, Most importantly, China's leaders were prescient in recognizing the challenge China would face in maintaining the high levels of economic growth that are so essential to meet the continuing needs and aspirations of its people without further undermining the environmental and social conditions on which the benefits of it depend. It is immensely encouraging that China has decided to make the transition to a growth-oriented, harmonious and sustainable development pathway, guided by science, and has already adopted policies, regulations and other measures designed to achieve this - including requirements for new automobiles that are more stringent than those of the United States.

Transnational corporations

China's leaders have set the pace and the direction for this, but they cannot do it alone. It requires the support and efforts of all sectors of society, as well as provincial and local governments. No input is more important to the success of this process than that of business and none more than that of transnational corporations. The participation of so many business representatives in this Conference is a particular source of encouragement. The corporate community has heeded the requirements of its leading role and taken its responsibilities very seriously indeed.

I should say that the term "transnational corporations", does not quite fit any more in an era when all corporations, even those whose operations are national, are nevertheless influenced by transnational factors. Environment and sustainable development issues know no boundaries. The policies and activities of corporations wherever they take place are the principal instruments through which people impact on the environment - in the industrial operations of corporations, in the products that people buy from them and in the conduct that they expect from them in defining and meeting their social responsibilities, of which the environment and sustainable development are key components. I am pleased to note that an increasing number of Chinese companies are participating in the Global Compact of the United Nations in which they undertake to abide by a set of principles for conduct and social responsibility.



Just as there is a transnational dimension to the activities and processes of all corporations there is a transnational dimension to virtually all aspects of environmental protection and sustainable development. Even for those whose major impacts are purely local, the broader consequences for corporations who are the source of such problems, affect their performance vis-a-vis their international counterparts.

There is no more important example of this than the ominous and growing risk of climate change, which is the greatest single risk to life on Earth as we know it. Human actions and behaviours will be decisive. The sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are local, motor vehicles, power generation, manufacturing heating, air conditioning and construction.

Principal source of increase

On a per capita basis, China's contributions to these emissions is still small relative to that of North America and other more industrialized countries that are primarily responsible for the pollution that has created the current crisis. Nevertheless, China is becoming the principal single source of increases in greenhouse gas emissions and will be under growing pressure from the international community to reduce them, something which China is already committed to doing in its own interests.

The transnational corporate community is playing an essential with its Chinese counterparts to help them make the transition to a sustainable development pathway. They can help to demonstrate for example, that a climate friendly, sustainable and harmonious mode of development will open up new opportunities for profit and competitive advantage for China. The recently formed Business Council for Sustainable Development in China, which has brought together a number of leading and progressive Chinese companies for this purpose, is providing new impetus to this process and deserves expanded membership and support, both from international and Chinese corporations.

No country faces a greater challenge in making this transition than China, And yet, no country stands to benefit more from taking the lead in doing so. In leading the transition to a people-centred, sustainable, harmonious mode of development guided by science, to which China is committed, its corporations will find a new generation of business opportunity and leadership while making an essential contribution to the future of China and the entire world. The people assembled here show that you are already responding to this monumental challenge.