Clinton, Obama, and Rudd Talk Climate Action, Global "Spirit of Partnership"


Clinton Global Initiative 2009
The Clinton Global Initiative kicked off today with some words from Bill Clinton, a discussion from a panel of luminaries including Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia and the CEOs of Coca Cola and WalMart, and a speech from President Obama. One of the primary topics of the day was using climate action to create a clean energy economy--an agenda that I got a sneak peak of when I sat down with Bill Clinton last night. Here's what unfolded when I headed to the fifth annual CGI in New York today.Clinton Global Initiative 2009
The proceedings began with a video presentation on CGI's achievements thus far. And since the Clinton Global Initiative is such a positive, powerful force for good, I won't hold it against them that the opening presentation was set to that awful Coldplay song that apparently hasn't died with the summer.

The achievements, which have helped 200 million people over the last 4 years, include preventing 60 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, providing 12 million people with safe drinking water, and saving 33 million acres of trees from deforestation.

Before the panelists took the stage, Clinton invited a few of the Initiative's success stories up to share their work. First and foremost was, the organization started by Gary White and Matt Damon. Their mission, as you may know, is to get safe water to people in developing countries sustainably. To reach their goal, they've implemented a successful 'water credit' program that has brought clean water to 133,000 people by enabling them to procure access to water themselves on a loan-style credit system. They noted that the credit is payed back a rate of 97%. Finally, they announced plans to bring their operation to Haiti, where they will get clean water to at least 50,000 people.

Discussing Climate Action
Here's a quick recap of the panel's discussion on climate and sustainability, and what each party had to say on the matter.

Muhtar Kent, CEO Coca Cola - He discussed helping women increase ownership of business in South Africa, and sustainable water initiatives. Coke talked about aims to become water neutral by 2020. The company uses 300 billion liters a year, and aims to give that back 1 liter to liter through water harvesting projects, recycling and replenishing.

Mike Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart - Though he's been in office less than a year, Clinton says he's engineered one of the most successful greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the world. It's actually nice to hear Wal-Mart discussing sustainability--I thought it would send sleazy double-talk shivers down my spine. Not the case--seems pretty pragmatic and not 'look-how-green-I-am' in the slightest. He helped the company save 90 million miles driven across country, reduced packaging, and launched the sustainability index, giving him some leeway to state that "sustainability is part of the business model."

Kevin Rudd, PM of Australia - Rudd notes that opposition to climate legislation only have arguments that fall under two categories: 1) they say science is wrong, or 2) say it will destroy economy. These arguments, he says, "crop up identically in every democracy in the world." He also stresses that Action on climate change will be positive for employment, and notes that Australia set a renewable energy standard for 20% by 2020. For what it's worth, he also mentions that he understands what Obama faces with climate legislation--AU's parliament just rejected its cap and trade, after all.

Obama's Speech on Global Service
To round out the opening events, Obama arrived--a little late from being held up in Manhattan traffic--to give a speech on the importance of global cooperation and the merits of service. In what seemed unfortunate for this reporter, he barely mentioned climate issues, which are taking center stage this week across the US. He thanks participants for their "stick to it-ness," their "global spirit of partnership," and noted that their projects are making positive differences all around the world--and that this attitude will be crucial for making progress on issues like climate in the future.

Stay tuned for more news on the commitments and alliances made between business, government, and non-profit environmental and humanitarian groups that will attempt to find some large scale solutions to the world's most serious problems.

More on the Clinton Global Initiative
Clinton Global Initiative Highlights: Energy and Climate Change
Clinton Global Initiative 2007: Overall Impact

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