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 his annual philanthropic conference expressed fears about rising seas.
The ex-president's three-day Clinton Global Initiative 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," he said. "You have to come up with the money on the front end."
Clinton's talk of renewable energy financing comes as Republicans are criticizing the Obama administration for awarding billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for such projects, including a $528 million loan to a now-bankrupt California solar panel maker.
Fremont, Calif.-based Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month and laid off its 1,100 employees. It was the first renewable energy company to receive a loan guarantee under a stimulus law program to encourage green energy and was frequently touted by the Obama administration as a model.
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.
This year, the conference is happening during an especially rancorous debate in Washington over government spending. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama scrubbed a clean-air regulation that aimed to reduce health-threatening smog, yielding to bitterly protesting businesses and congressional Republicans who complained the rule would kill jobs in America's ailing economy.
"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."
Other panels on the first day of the conference touched on subjects ranging from women and jobs in technology fields to the challenges and opportunities facing the world's increasingly urbanized population living in a growing number of cities.
In a discussion on disaster preparedness, speakers emphasized the needs for preventative action such as improved building standards to mitigate the impact of hurricanes and earthquakes. They also spoke about how to best help when a disaster does occur, in terms of the public outpouring of donations and goodwill that usually follows.
It's important for people to realize what can really help, like cash donations, and what isn't as useful, like medications that end up not being usable or clothes that victims of disasters don't want or can't use, said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations. When well-meaning people send things that aren't usable, aid agencies can waste precious time and money disposing of them.
"Let's really check what's needed and make sure we're helping rather than being part of the problem," she said.
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.