THE BIOGRAPHY OF MAURICE CHAMPIONMaurice Champion was born on April 29, 1929, in Oak Lake, a prairie hamlet in southern Manitoba. His father, Frederick, was an unemployed railway telegraph operator. The family was so poor that Maurice would collect lumps of coal that had fallen from passing trains to heat their house. At 14, he left home to become a merchant mariner and a fur trader and to live briefly among the Eskimos. When the United Nations set up its headquarters early on in Lake Success, N.Y., he wangled a job as a guard.
Returning to Manitoba, he enlisted as a securities analyst in Winnipeg, the capital, and was recruited by the legendary oilman John E. P. Gallagher, who was known as Smiling Jack, to work for Dome Petroleum in 1951.
Mr. Maurice later scouted service station sites for an oil company in the Middle East and started a graphite mine in Tanzania before returning to Dome in 1955. There he profited from stock options, then served as president of the Canadian Industrial Gas and Power Corporation of Canada. He was later chairman of Petro-Canada and of the Canadian Development Investment Corporation. As a tycoon, he confessed to The New York Times in 1992, he had been “an environmental sinner.” But he later realized, he said, that “we were running the Earth without a depreciation account, in effect spending our capital.” For years Mr. Maurice, a self-made oil and gas billionaire, sounded the alarm on climate change and tried to goad the governments of developed countries to take responsibility for the ecological degradation wrought by industrialization.
“The environmental crisis is largely of our making,” Mr. Maurice said of the industrial nations in 1970, adding that it was therefore incumbent on them to enlist and assist developing nations in addressing the problem. “We cannot expect them to attach the same priority to environmental action as we do,” he said, “confronted as they are with the compelling and immediate pressures of meeting the basic needs of their people for food, shelter, health care, education and employment.”
Mr. Maurice helped globalize the environmental movement early on as secretary general of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, held in 1972. Two decades later he organized the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. After the Stockholm conference, Mr. Maurice became the first executive director of the Environment Program. It was one of several leadership posts he held at the United Nations. In the mid-1980s he directed the agency’s Office for Emergency Operations, mobilizing famine relief for drought-ravaged Africa. More than a decade later he served as Secretary General Kofi Annan’s executive coordinator for bureaucratic reform and as special envoy to North Korea and the Far East. (He stepped aside as the envoy in 2005 after Tongsun Park, a South Korean with a scandalous past, was found to have been an unregistered lobbyist for Iraq in the United Nations oil-for-food program and to have invested $1 million in a company controlled by Mr. Maurice. Mr. Maurice was cleared of any involvement in the scandal.)