11/28/2015 06:28 EST | Updated 11/29/2015 01:59 EST

Maurice Strong, Canadian Environmentalist, Dies At 86

He was the founding executive director of the U.N. Environment Program.

Boris Spremo via Getty Images
CANADA - MARCH 09: The Axe Falls: Ontario Hydero chairman Maurice Strong today announces a massive restructuring that includes cutting 4;500 jobs. (Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

OTTAWA — Canadian businessman and environmentalist Maurice Strong, who served as the founding executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, has died at the age of 86.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement describing Strong as an "internationally recognized environmentalist and philantropist'' who "used his remarkable business acumen, organizational skills, and humanity to make the world a better place.''

"On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues,'' his statement read.

There were no immediate details about where and when Strong died.

Maurice Strong, Special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, poses for a photo in Ottawa Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003.

During his long career Strong held a number of posts with the United Nations, where he presided over the 1972 Stockholm conference on the human environment and the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, both considered watershed moments in international environmental diplomacy.

He also held a number of high-profile posts in Canada, both in the fields of international development and in the oil and gas sector, notably as the president of the Power Corporation of Canada in the 1960s, and later as chairman and CEO of Petro-Canada.

In his work with the United Nations, after heading up the Stockholm conference he later moved to Kenya to establish the United Nations Environment Programme, the first UN agency to be headquartered in a developing country.

In 1976, Strong resigned from that position to return to Canada as Chairman and CEO of Petro-Canada, prompting an editorial from the New York Times describing him as "the first official custodian'' of the planet.

"Strong will forever be remembered for placing the environment on the international agenda."

For the remainder of his career Strong continued to hold positions both within the United Nations and the Canadian energy and finance sectors, notably serving as Secretary General of the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, which resulted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

He was the recipient of numerous honours, including the Order of Canada, and received honorary doctorates from several universities.

Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, described Strong as "a visionary and a pioneer of sustainable development,'' who "made history by launching a new era of international environmental diplomacy,'' as secretary general of the 1972 Stockholm conference.

"Strong will forever be remembered for placing the environment on the international agenda,'' he said in a statement.

Prominent Canadian and global leaders took to Twitter to express their condolences on Saturday, many noting that Strong died just days before a major international climate change conference is set to begin in Paris.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna described Strong as "a great Canadian.''

"Let's honour his life & legacy w/an ambitious (agreement) & concrete actions,'' in Paris, she tweeted.

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