U2 can help save Africa, Bono tells Blair

Click to follow

"I think I made the wrong career choice," Tony Blair apparently remarked to Bono, enviously observing the vast accumulation of wealth and well-heeled types around him here in Davos, the Swiss alpine resort where the World Economic Forum is holding its annual meeting.

"Well," Bono observed, "you'll know soon enough," for in the Irish rock star's view, if Mr Blair manages to successfully address the twin problems of poverty in Africa and global climate change during his time as chairman of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, he will surely find his place in heaven.

If the optimism and energy being applied to these concerns at Davos are any guide, he's already well on the way. Mr Blair promises to use Britain's chairmanship to bring about a unified approach to action on both issues.

Yet he is diplomatically evasive in spelling out exactly what and how. On proposals from Jacques Chirac, the French President, for an array of international taxes on air travel and capital flows to fund a big increase in aid, Mr Blair will say only that the important thing is the objective to raise aid; how it is done is a secondary issue with different solutions and approaches.

Bill Clinton, who shared the platform with Mr Blair, was more forthcoming. The former US President basically dismissed the plan as unworkable. If Mr Clinton thinks that, it's not hard to imagine what the present White House incumbent feels.

Mr Blair was equally diplomatic on climate change, holding back from overt criticism of the Bush administration for refusing to take part in global solutions and declining to spell out new goals beyond those defined. However, in a session at the fringes of the meeting, John McCain, a senior Republican senator, said the administration would take climate change a lot more seriously in its second term, not least because of President Bush's friendship with Mr Blair, "whom he listens to".

Leading by example, Mr Blair paid £8 to the World Economic Forum as the notional economic cost of his carbon emissions while at the meeting.

Bono, a campaigner on Third World issues, listed the main challenges for the G8 this year as the cancellation of multilateral debt to African nations, a doubling of the aid budget, and action on trade. Success or failure in Britain's G8 chairmanship would be judged on its ability to deliver these things.

Mr Blair hopes to build an international consensus for action around the recommendations of the UK government- sponsored Africa Commission, which reports in March. However, he conceded the difficult bit was finding mutually agreeable mechanisms for ensuring the action is taken.

Africa and climate change have been the dominant themes, with regular business concerns taking a backseat to these more worthy causes. But as Bono said of poverty in Africa, "this is not a cause, it is an emergency. Our generation will be judged by our ability to find solutions". Normally hard-bitten business leaders seem to be getting the message too.