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CGI Kick-Off: Partnering Across Sectors

By Tom Watson on September 26, 2007No Comment

There are 52 heads of state attending this third annual Clinton Global Initiative, and they were given the respect of a dramatic roll call of names and titles as they took their seats in the Sheraton ballroom this morning. But President Clinton quickly banished any formality from the proceedings with his performance in the opening plenary session.

The former president set a tone of cross-sector collaboration, leading an eclectic panel that included two presidents, one CEO, one NGO president, a film star and an archbishop.

Now, the film star in question wasn’t Angelina Jolie, who is expected here on Seventh Avenue this afternoon; it was Al Gore, star of An Inconvenient Truth and former Vice-President. Clinton and Gore sat on the far ends of the panel that included Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines, World Bank president Robert Zoellick, and Lee Scott, the CEO of Wal-Mart.

The former two-time Democratic ticket resembled nothing so much as an graying boomer rock band – a power duo, if you will – coming back for one more tour. But instead of singing bland old lyrics of peace, love and understanding they pushed hard and publicly for a global agreement on greenhouse emissions – with President Clinton particularly holding the World Bank chief’s feet to the fire on initiatives in the developing world.

It’s Clinton’s view that the World Bank can use its economic might with poor nations to lead on sustainable development, with special attention to carbon emissions, "We don’t have the right to to ask anyone in the world to stay poor," he said, but he added that "people can’t seize on options they don’t know about."

Zoellick was measured in his response; he became the head of the international development institution in July after the disastrous tenture of his precedessor, Paul Wolfowitz. "We can be helpful," he said. But he added that it’s important for the World Bank as an institution "not to preach" to development nations, but to work with governments to balance the global warming crisis with the need to increase economies – and provide energy – in those countries.

The panel was a short one and Clinton, who was moderating, moved on – but it was clear he was pushing the World Bank (teaming with Gore) and using the example of Wal-Mart’s new commitment to reduce its carbon footprint (and that of its customers and suppliers). Scott said his global giant of a company had finally "come to terms with what has long been an area of argument" – the conflict between "social good" and making money for shareholders. But, he discovered, "our suppliers were waiting for us to ask" and the Wal-Mart employees are ecstatic with the company’s pledge to slash its carbon footprint. "The level of pride and enthusiasm among our associates is incredible," he said.

Gore, as is his habit, went right at the audience in the few minutes allotted him, saying that the polar ice cap would disappear in 23 years without concerted global action "and it won’t come back for a million years."

"I’d call on President Bush to follow President Reagan’s example and listen to the scientists. The United States of America has to lead the world to solve the climate crisis."

In a mark of how Clinton pushes the cross-pollination factor here, the panel switched to the role of religion, with President Karzai and Bishop Tutu describing a positive role for faith of world development. Karzai said that invesment was viable in Afghanistan and pointed to the growth of its wireless telephone business. And Tutu paid tribute to the monks of Burma, who are leading an anti-totalitarian movement.

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