by Lars-Göran Engfeldt, Ambassador and former Chief Negotiator for global environment and sustainable development issues for the Swedish Foreign Ministry

Ambassador Lars-Göran Engfeldt
Maurice Strong occupies a unique place in our efforts to understand and deal with the powerful planetary changes during the last 60 years.

There is probably no other individual that has had such an enduring political and moral influence in upholding a vision of the human race living in equity and in harmony with the surrounding biosphere. His remarkable achievements in the two seminal processes of preparing and managing the Stockholm and Rio Conferences are but two examples.

He played the key operational and catalytic role in making it possible for the pioneering Stockholm Conference to achieve for the first time action-oriented political agreements at the highest global level in dealing with the new crossectorial issue of the environment. He designed a unique preparatory process that met both the desire for comprehensiveness and action. Among his major feats were the Founex initiative, which cleared the way for developing country participation in Stockholm, his handling of the hostile specialized agencies of the UN, the early contacts with China and his masterminding of the institutional follow-up of the Conference. As the first Executive Director of UNEP, he started to adapt UNEP to the reality of the accelerating global environmental crisis.

Maurice Strong was also the architect of the Rio preparatory process, including Agenda 21. This remarkable document remains the indisputable yardstick for the transition to sustainable development. In his vision for an Earth Charter he was ahead of his time and later managed to realize this very important initiative through the civil society.

It was through his personal efforts that Rio became a summit event. He also organized the special, first ever closed event with the world leaders. There they were reminded of their historical responsibility for the follow-up of the major decisions taken at Rio.

Maurice Strong can also be credited with the ground-breaking involvement of science, civil society and the business sector in policy development on environment and sustainable development. He set up first-class conference secretariats which were essential to the success. He successfully handled the byzantine UN bureaucracy and was able to neutralize attempts by influential governments through insufficient budgetary allocations to reduce the impact of Rio. He combined vision and courage with a mastery of the art of the possible and used unconventional methods, but never broke any rule.

Maurice Strong has consistently advocated a stronger UN and is one of the pioneers of the proposal for a UN Charter body for the global commons.

He has been called a pragmatic idealist, which captures the essence of his extraordinary personality.

To this should be added perhaps the most important of all – Maurice Strong has always been the friend of his friends regardless of time and circumstances.