I’m not sure when Al Gore and Bill Clinton were last in the same room together, let alone on a stage together, but they reunited publicly today at the start of the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. (And, to focus on the superficial for a moment, their handshake — clumsy and brief, an afterthought really — didn’t look at all like the sort of handshake you might expect a former U.S. president and his erstwhile second-in-command to share.)

Clinton introduced and honored several people before the plenary officially kicked off, including Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) and the president of the Florida Power & Light Company, for their joint efforts to expand solar power as a means of bringing Florida’s emissions into line with the goals of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. It wasn’t the sexiest thing I’ve seen all week, but it may be of higher impact to recognize work like that in a room full of rich, powerful people than to have Al Gore speak about climate change for the kerjillionth time.

The opening plenary featured, among others, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who made a weird pitch for an Afghan pen manufacturer … which is nice and all, but points out that he doesn’t have much incentive to invest what little money his country has into things like carbon mitigation.

Lee Scott, for his part, announced that Wal-Mart would reach its goal of selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs by the end of the year. Nice and all, but it seems to me that Wal-Mart should pledge to only sell compact fluorescent bulbs.

On just that score, Gore made the point that market changes are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for averting the climate crisis. Governments need to be involved. Laws need to be changed. On this subject, Matt Yglesias writes that Clinton’s efforts might best be spent convincing “rich guys and executives at big companies to take a more enlightened attitude toward the political process, to return to the sort of public-spirited involvement in public affairs that characterized the business class in the 1950s and 60s.”

It’s a fair enough point, but the CGI actually encourages both philanthropy and political involvement, even if the focus is on the former.

Of course, if Clinton convinced his wife — possibly future president of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton — to take an aggressive stance on this issue (maybe, say, surprise us all with a climate policy as ambitious as her late-in-coming health platform), he could very well advance the cause much, much farther than any number of Global Initiative panels ever will.