NEW YORK — Bill Clinton's annual summit of world leaders and celebrities opened Wednesday with the former president sharing the stage with rock star Bono and dignitaries including his former vice president, who warned that humanity is struggling in the fight against climate change.
Al Gore pointed to a number of natural disasters as evidence, including storms in Haiti, hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and fires in California.
"Since we met here last year, the world has lost ground to the climate crisis," Gore said at the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative. "This is a rout. We are losing badly."
The initiative, now in its fourth year, draws world leaders, celebrities, activists and scholars for three days of discussions about pressing global issues including climate change and poverty. It coincides with the General Assembly meeting taking place on the other side of town at the United Nations.
Gore was joined at the opening plenary session by Clinton, Queen Rania of Jordan, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Bono and E. Neville Isdell, chairman of the board of directors for Coca-Cola.
Clinton asked Bono whether the current financial crisis would affect the ability to meet global goals to improve life for the world's poorest people _ a cause central to the musician's humanitarian work.
Bono questioned nations' funding priorities, referring to the proposed federal bailout of the financial industry.
"It is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G-8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable disease and hunger," he said.
"Bankruptcy is a serious business," Bono said, but he added, "this is moral bankruptcy."
Eight years after they left the White House and weeks before another election, Clinton and Gore avoided politics and exchanged pleasantries as Gore thanked Clinton for his efforts with the summit.
Former President George H.W. Bush made an unexpected appearance at the end of the session, announcing that he and Clinton were working together again to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Ike.
The former presidents first teamed up to raise $11 million for tsunami victims, then worked to raise private money to help victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Participants in the Clinton Global Initiative are asked to take concrete steps to tackle specific global problems. Some of those commitments are announced during the four-day meeting.
On Wednesday, Lance Armstrong, who is planning a return to cycling and next year's Tour de France, said his foundation would commit $8 million over the next five years to a global awareness campaign for cancer, including a meeting that would convene in Paris after the tour.
"This must be a global health priority. It is the reason we are here today," he said, adding that racing his bicycle all over the world is the best way to promote the effort.
Close to 60 current and former world leaders were expected at the conference. Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama were also expected to take part.