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Bill Clinton vs. The World Bank

The opening plenary was fascinating (video here). Clinton explained how CGI commitments had already avoided 20,000,000 tons of greenhouse gases. Then he tried to get Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, to realize that the “Bank can show people options for sustainable development.”

Zoellick, however, was full of little more than platitudes, saying we need to address “questions of adaptation and mitigation,” and noting that there is a sensitivity in the developing world that climate change funds will come at the expense of development — totally missing Clinton’s point that green development is the only winning path (and Gore’s point that global warming, left unchecked, will negate all other efforts aimed at development).

Clinton, however, persisted, especially after H. Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart touted his various successes:

Scott explained that they are on track to sell 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs, the equivalent of taking 700,000 cars off the road, and reducing packaging by 5%, the equivalent of taking 100,000 6-mpg diesel trucks off the road. As one small example of how they were working with suppliers, Scott talked about suggesting to General Mills they straighten the noodles in Hamburger Helper, which allowed a smaller package.

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Clinton then came back, reiterated his point that the World Bank could play a key role in fostering sustainable development, adding, “if Wal-Mart makes profits reducing its carbon footprint, we need an institution that helps governments reach such conclusions on clean energy.”

But it was lost on Zoellick. As the media has reported, in 2006, investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency were only “20 percent of the Bank’s total energy sector commitments.” We’ll have to wait for a new U.S. president — and a new Bank president — for a real push for sustainable development.