NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investments in energy-saving building retrofits and clean-energy projects can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and bolster the U.S. economy, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Tuesday.
More than 1,200 people, including more than 50 heads of state such as U.S. President Barack Obama, business leaders, humanitarians and celebrities were due to attend the seventh annual Clinton Global Initiative that began on Tuesday.
With the United States possibly on the brink of another recession and the unemployment rate at more than 9 percent, Clinton trumpeted a pledge by the AFL-CIO labor federation and the American Federation of Teachers to reinvest $10 billion over the next five years in energy-efficient infrastructure.
“This is a huge deal. This could be done not just in the United States but in every European country, in every wealthy Asian country. This system will work and you get guaranteed savings,” Clinton told attendees during the opening session.
The unions have worked with state treasurers and pension funds associated with labor to make the green investments. For example, two of the largest U.S. public pension funds, California’s CalPERS and CalSTERS, have allocated over $1.1 billion to the effort.
Aside from clean-energy projects such as wind and solar power, Clinton said pension funds and banks should invest in giving green make-overs to buildings, from hospitals and schools to government buildings. The cost of retrofitting would be paid back by the monthly savings in energy costs, he said.
In cities such as London and New York, buildings are responsible for nearly 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists say heat-trapping gases cause global warming, which could cause deadly floods, droughts and heat waves.
“This (commitment) goes right at the biggest unemployment problem we have in the United States, right at the climate-change challenge and puts more disposable income into the hands of people who will almost certainly spend it,” Clinton said.
John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, which is helping implement the commitment by the labor and teachers’ unions, said that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, about 18,000 jobs were created.
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Clinton said if American banks started investing some $2 trillion in cash they were sitting on, “we would have a million jobs in no time.”
“This is not rocket science,” said Clinton, who began his philanthropic initiative out of his frustration while president between 1993 and 2001 at attending conferences that were more talk than action.
In an effort to jump-start the stalled U.S. economy, Obama introduced a $447 billion plan to create jobs earlier this month. Job growth is crucial to Obama’s re-election hopes next year because he is being criticized for the stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Slovenian President Danilo Turk said lessons could be learned from Germany’s investments.
“We have to follow Germany’s example with an understanding that the results will not come overnight, but that we have to find the appropriate public funds for investment in transformative technologies now,” Turk said.
Germany now gets 20 percent of its power from renewable sources such as wind and solar, and is on track for 35 percent by 2020. It has created 250,000 jobs in renewable energy in just a few years, Jeremy Rifkin, an adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Reuters on Monday.
To attend Clinton’s summit, commitments must be made. If pledges are not kept, attendees cannot return.
Since its inception, the Clinton Global Initiative has yielded more than 2,000 pledges valued at more than $63 billion, which have improved the lives of more than 300 million people in 180 countries, organizers say.
Editing by Mark Egan and Peter Cooney