Former President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that the success of the alternative energy movement is hampered by a lack of financing. His comments came as world leaders attending the Clinton Global Initiative expressed fears about rising seas at his annual philanthropic conference.
The ex-president's three-day summit for VIPs with deep pockets began Tuesday with a frank discussion about addressing global climate challenges, co-hosted by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and South African President Jacob Zuma.
There was a sense of frustration among the world leaders over the failure to create a legally binding world agreement on carbon emissions.
"We have seen much less progress than we hoped for," said Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
Pointing to Germany's successful creation of solar energy jobs as a model for other nations to emulate, Clinton said the main issue with green energy is a lack of proper funding.
"This has to work economically," Clinton said. "You have to come up with the money on the front end."
Rising seas are a matter of life and death for small island nations, Zuma said.
"Not theoretical, not in the future, now," he said. "And they can't understand why we're failing to realize that."
Noting that the Kyoto Protocol on climate change is set to expire next year, Calderon said progress must be made toward establishing new rules at the United Nations convention on climate change in Durban, South Africa, in November.
Calderon said he is concerned that the world's economic problems are overshadowing the need for action on climate change.
"Last year we had the worst rains ever in Mexico, and this year we are living with the worst drought ever in Mexico," he said. "I know that the world has a lot of troubles, but we are still facing the most challenging problem for human kind in the future, and that is climate change."
Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, said rising seas would submerge one-fifth of her country, displacing more than 30 million people. Clinton said the next countries most likely to be affected by climate change are places that are inland and hot — such as Mali, a landlocked nation in western Africa.
"A few years ago, after the south Asian tsunami, I spent a lot of time in the Maldives," Clinton said. "I think it's quite possible that the Maldives won't be here in 30 or 40 years."
Clinton said Caribbean nations are microcosms of the problems associated with combating climate change. Every Caribbean nation should be energy-independent, he said, by generating solar, wind and geothermal energy.
"But only Trinidad has natural gas," Clinton said. "Everybody else imports heavy oil to burn old-fashioned generators at high cost."
Other leaders who participated in Tuesday's panel included European Commission President Jose Barroso, Slovenian President Danilo Turk, Tillman Thomas, the prime minister of Grenada, and Cisse Mariam Kaidama Sidibe, the prime minister of Mali.
Last year's GCI conference generated nearly 300 new commitments valued at $6 billion to tackle major global issues from poverty and disease to climate change.
"We've got to somehow involve the imagination of ordinary people," Clinton said. "They have to understand that this is not a burden, it's an opportunity."