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Climate change promises must be kept

Updated Monday, 7th June 2010

Many policies, treaties and commitments on climate change have been made over the years. What happens if they aren't successful?

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Maurice Strong has been working with conservation and sustainable development projects for the majority of his long career, and is currently Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Institute for Research on Security and Sustainability for Northeast Asia. Here he discusses the legacy of Stockholm Conference in 1972, the success—or otherwise—of promises made by governments since then, and the potential impacts of not carrying them out.

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Interviewer

Maurice Strong, can I ask you when you first developed an interest in the environment?

Maurice Strong

Well I developed an interest in what we now call the environment long before I ever knew the word environment.  It’s in my early days when I was profoundly interested in nature, so much so that I ran away from school and spent several days out in nature, marvelling at its cycles, looking up at the sky and wondering what was up there.  So, and then later that merged into conservation, my interest in conservation, and then later environment and sustainable development.  So my interest preceded my use of the terms.  Well the words may existing for a long time, but its connotation, the connotation that we now give it has emerged, it was in the early, during the Stockholm period we called it environment.

Interviewer

This was the big conference in 1972 in Stockholm, the first global international environmental conference.

Maurice Strong

Yeah, it’s the conference which put the environment up on the world agenda, and called attention to the fact that it was really affecting the prospects for the human future.  And it was a difficult conference, but it did reach some significant results.  Which if the governments had done what they undertook to do then and later on, we wouldn’t have the problem today.  Unfortunately governments have committed themselves, at Stockholm and in the varies treaties, conventions, agreements, declarations that have been made, to do things which unfortunately to a large extent have not done, and that is what the real problem is today and it’s more acute now than it was even then.

Interviewer

So what are you working on these days?

Maurice Strong

Well I'm still working on the same issues.  I work to quite a degree in China and with the Chinese, and the Chinese have their remarkable economic growth.  They now realise has been accompanied by significant damage to their resources and environment, and health problems arising from pollution etc., and they're now the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas effects that determine climate change.  So they are now engaged and they're very thoroughly engaged, they're very concerned and they're acting, and in fact things like their automobile emission standards are bigger than those in the United States.

Interviewer

So will you continue working in China and with the Chinese authorities in the next year, five years, ten years?

Maurice Strong

I'm not sure how long I have at my old age, but I'm going to continue as long as I can.  I don’t speculate on how long I’ll still have, but as long as I have time I’ll be continuing to work on these issues.

Interviewer

And when you look forward, let’s say a decade to the year 2020, those decades pass quite quickly, don’t they, do you wonder whether much progress will have been made in the next ten years, towards the goals that you set out in ’72?

Maurice Strong

Well I would say much progress must be made.

Interviewer

That’s not quite my question though.

Maurice Strong

No, but I'm asked often, you didn’t ask me this, but whether I'm pessimistic or optimistic, and I say I am analytically pessimistic, in fact I think I don’t think we’ll do it; on the other hand I'm operationally optimistic, we can do it and as long as we can we've got to keep trying, that’s what I do.  But I think it’s within this next ten years that we’ll be making those decisions that will actually determine whether we’ll make it or not.

Interviewer

Do you think we are capable of doing it?

Maurice Strong

I think we’re capable but the longer we take, the more costly it will be, the less likely it will be.

Interviewer

Maurice Strong I'm very grateful for your time, thank you.

Maurice Strong

Thank you.

(4’13”)

 

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