The idea that President Bush is not committed to fighting climate change is a misperception, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insisted Thursday.
Paulson spoke during the second day of the Clinton Global Initiative conference. His comments came the same day Bush convened a two-day meeting on climate issues that emphasizes creating more ways to find a solution to global warming, rather than setting firm goals for reducing carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for the environmental problem.
While it's an approach that has earned Bush some criticism, Paulson said the president was serious about finding solutions.
"He's taking it very seriously," Paulson said, responding to a question from panel moderator Tom Brokaw. "I don't see how it can be anything other than a positive to get the major economies of the world, to get the nations that are responsible for 80 percent of carbon emissions, to get them together to deal with the global problem."
The panel addressed issues of economic growth in a time of climate change. Paulson was also scheduled to speak at Bush's conference in Washington later in the day.
Tony Blair supportive
Bush's approach got some support from another panelist, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said it was important to get the countries together with a framework that took into account their different economic stages.
"I welcome the meeting that the president's having," Blair said.
It was an interesting start to the second day of the conference, started by former President Clinton in 2005 to bring people together for discussions and actions on global causes.
The initiative draws world leaders, celebrities and scholars for three days of discussions on global issues and asks them to take concrete steps on those causes. The first day brought out a number of commitments as participants pledged action on this year's four areas of focus: climate change and energy, poverty, health care and education.
Some pledges that emerged Wednesday were huge, such as a commitment from the Florida Power & Light Co. to build a solar power plant as part of a $2.4 billion clean energy program.
Others were smaller, but still substantial. CARE, a humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting global poverty, promised $150 million to provide health services to 30 million women and children. BRAC, a Bangladesh nonprofit, vowed to spend $271 million to educate 7.5 million young people in Asia and Africa.
‘Sesame Street’ to Afghanistan
Actress Angelina Jolie announced a commitment from the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which she co-chairs, to help educate more than 1 million children around the world. It includes $1.2 million to build an educational complex in Sudan, a plan to take "Sesame Street" to Afghanistan, and a distance learning project that would reach 150,000 children, including those affected by the war in Iraq.
"They say education is not lifesaving," Jolie said at a news conference with representatives of the Education Partnership's member organizations. "All of us would beg to differ."
More than 50 current and former world leaders were on the list of attendees.
Clinton's former vice president, Al Gore, was among other prominent politicians attending the conference.
Although there has been a chill in their relationship, Clinton and Gore spoke warmly of each other at Wednesday's opening session. Clinton praised Gore for his environmental activism, and Gore promoted Clinton's new book.
Gore, who won an Academy Award for his environmental documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," also appeared across town at the United Nations on Monday, where he cited a lengthening list of global warming's impacts and urged world leaders to act now.
Gore: ‘We need leadership’
"This climate crisis is not going to be solved only by personal actions and business actions," Gore said at the Clinton conference. "We need changes in laws, changes in policies, we need leadership and we need a new treaty."
Also on Wednesday, actor Brad Pitt announced that his "Make It Right" project was prepared to break ground by the end of the year on 150 affordable "green" homes in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"This is doable, this is not that difficult," Pitt said. "I've seen these designs, they're fantastic."
More than $10 billion was pledged toward world causes in the first two conferences, and participants were expected to pledge more this year.
Those who attend pay a $15,000 registration fee and are expected to commit time or money to the conference's big issues. Those who do not fulfill their pledges are not invited back; Clinton spokesman Ben Yarrow said there were five people this year whose registration fees were not accepted.
Among the conference's accomplishments so far, according to Yarrow:
- More than 857,000 children under 5 years old have gotten access to lifesaving medical treatment like vaccines.
- By the end of 2007, 34 million people will have been treated for neglected tropical diseases.
- More than 3.2 million people in the developing world have gained access to clean energy services.
- The foundation has plans to expand, Yarrow said, with a conference planned for Asia sometime in the next year; the launch of a Web site, mycommitment.org, and the creation of college groups affiliated with the Clinton Global Initiative.