Bill Clinton’s pulling power has not been diminished by his years out of office. If anything he is more popular today in the USA that when he was President.
The Clinton Global Initiative is his event. It is branded with the Clinton name and it reflects his values and ethos and politics, especially in seeking to help disadvantaged people and communities around the globe.
The CGI is held each year to coincide with the full meeting of the UN General Assembly. Consequently, it is a magnet for current and former Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Presidents and political leaders, who arrive in New York wanting to network with others and happy to share a high profile platform to talk on the major issues of the day.
This is my seventh year at the CGI. When former President Clinton established it in 2005 he invited this blog to be a member. I was happy to join and to travel there each year to participate in the discussions and to listen and learn from others.
The CGI is an innovative project which brings together political and economic leaders to devise and implement solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, including poverty, climate change, inequality, and job creation.
Since 2005 the CGI has succeeded in improving the lives of over 300 million people in more than 180 countries through commitments valued in excess of $63 billion. This year another 6 billion dollars in commitments were made at the conference.
And it is this that marks the CGI out as different from other international conferences at which notable guests speak about issues of immediate concern. At the CGI participants are expected to make a commitment to action – that will see money, technical and human resources and enthusiasm and energy invested into a time limited specific project which has a definite outcome.
This can be the creation of jobs, the delivery of health services, the provision of water or telecommunications or education or skills training or a multitude of other outcomes.
This year’s CGI had three main topics. Jobs, sustainable consumption, and Girls and Women. A big part of the three day event focused on climate change and the danger it presents, for example to low lying areas as a result of rising sea levels.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasine, warned that this threatened one fifth of her country, which is one of the poorest in the world and that this would displace over 30 million people. Another example cited was the Maldives islands in the Indian Ocean which some predicted might not exist in 30 or 40 years.
It is quite clear that the failure of world states to agree a legally binding agreement on carbon emissions is the source of much of the current difficulties. In addition the Kyoto Protocol on climate change will expire next year.
In two months representatives from world governments will be attending the United Nations convention on climate change in Durban, South Africa. It is vital that new rules are agreed that are legally binding and that they are monitored.
Rising sea levels also threaten parts of this island. It is a danger that must be taken seriously and action taken to minimise any dangers. The Irish government needs to go to Durban with a clear strategy to propose and support ideas which can tackle climate change.
Day one of the CGI also saw former Irish President Mary Robinson along with Archbishop Tutu of South Africa, announce their specific commitment to undertake a global partnership to end child marriage. The campaign is entitled ‘Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage’.
It is estimated that in poor countries, a third of all girls are married by 18 and that this forces them out of school and exposes them to abuse. Mrs Robinson and her colleagues are committed to ending this practice in a generation.
Day three of the conference saw a return to this issue when both the plenary sessions and the workshops and smaller discussions focussed on the problems faced by women and girls. Business participants recounted their experience of having to negotiate through the cultural barriers to persuade fathers and tribal elders allow women and girls take up paid positions or set up small businesses which could then support them and their families.
One speaker detailed the back breaking work that women and girls in sub Sahara Africa undertake collecting water. Many walk for 10 miles a day over the most difficult terrain and in high temperatures carrying up to 20 kg of water on their heads.
This has an adverse impact on their health leading to arthritic diseases, miscarriages and back and chest pains. Women and girls who travel from their home also face grave risk of rape and assault.
Piping clean water to villages can reduce the threat and provide women and girls with the time to engage in education and other training programmes that can economically benefit both them and their communities.
The plight of 12 million people in Somalia, who are currently experiencing famine and drought, was also highlighted during the conference by Somali born poet and rapper K'naan. He had recently been to Somalia to see for himself the conditions in the camps and he brought back film of the scale of the problem which was shown at the CGI.
In two weeks President Clinton will be in Dublin to attend an economic conference organised by the Irish government. This blog will be there as well. It will be interesting to see how his belief in growing the economic rather than austerity measures will go down with an Irish government that is committed to cuts.