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Business and the Planetary History of International Environmental Governance in the 1970s

A journal article by Ben Huf Glenda Sluga and Sabine Selchow


Huf, Ben, Glenda Sluga & Sabine Selchow (2022) "Business and the Planetary History of International Environmental Governance in the 1970s" Contemporary European History , 31(4): 553 – 569


The role of business and multinational corporations (MNCs) in early international environmental governance is not well understood. Typically, historians accord business growing influence after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, coincident with the rise of a market-oriented sustainable development paradigm. In this article, we highlight the considerable involvement of self-styled business actors in the formative 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment and subsequent establishment of the UN Environment Programme. Tracing the interconnected networks of British economist Barbara Ward, Italian industrialist Aurelio Peccei and Canadian oilman-turned-UNEP boss Maurice Strong, we identify business actors as key in the passage from ‘planetary’ to ‘global’ environmental rationales characteristic of environmental politics between the 1970s and 1990s. However, we also show that business was a sought-after (even if often ambiguous) partner in the 1970s’ moment of innovative ‘planetary’ environmental thinking and institution making. The contested status of MNCs in 1970s internationalism shaped this early business involvement in the history of environmental governance.


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