Sir Richard Branson, the head of the Virgin group of companies, yesterday committed $3bn to “tackle” climate change.

The billionaire pledged all profits from his Virgin air and rail interests over the next 10 years to combating rising global temperatures. However, the money will not go to charities but be invested in a new branch of Sir Richard’s ever-expanding Virgin conglomerate, Virgin Fuels. Much of the investment will focus on biofuels.

Speaking at a news conference for Bill Clinton’s “Clinton Global Initiative” organisation in New York yesterday, Sir Richard said adults had a duty to pass on a “pristine” planet to the next generation: “We have to wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels. Our generation has the knowledge, it has the financial resources and as importantly it has the willpower to do so.”

However, you could contend what Bransen is doing is clever green marketing. Once again the devil is in the detail. Airlines are coming under increasing pressure for their contribution to climate change, with the aviation industry expected to account for 15% of global warming by 2015. Air transport was exempted from the Kyoto protocol on climate change, provided that airlines sought a way to reduce emissions through a trading scheme by 2007. With that deadline fast approaching and no agreement in sight, the prospect of taxes on aviation fuel or airline travel is becoming more realistic. This latest scheme by Branson could be a clever move to preempt that.

There is also no way that biofuels can solve the climate change crisis. In an editorial, this week’s New Scientist magazine says: “We cannot grow our way out of the twin crises of climate change and energy security. There is a real danger of creating a biofuels bubble that will burst, leaving behind a pungent whiff of chip-fat oil, burning rainforests and rotting fields.”

You could argue that this $3 billion is not really to tackle climate change. Its an investment by Branson in Branson’s companies. It will not stop people flying. It would be a lot better if Branson simply grounded his fleet of planes overnight. Now that really would be an historic gesture.


  • Is there a source for “Air transport was exempted from the Kyoto protocol on climate change, provided that airlines sought a way to reduce emissions through a trading scheme by 2007”?
    I’m keen to know.

  • Its a direct quote from the original Guardian article – click on the link on “billionaire”

  • It is easy to complain, to propose real alternatives is more challenging.

    The recognised principles for sustainable development are evident in the proposals of the Branson Corporations. To be sustainable three elements must be in place with similar strengths, Social, Environmental and Financial. The environmental element is obvious, the social element can be expected from a responsible employer who is funding a venture that is at least supportive to rural economies around the world, and financially it has to pay to be sustainable.

    Branson’s example needs more work, yet seems to me to be streets ahead of many trans-national corporations. PR can be a good first step.

    There is much more to do, and quickly if the benign global climate is not to become a luxury that is only memory. How long before global governments unite to requires the polluters to pay for the remedy. For example, the fossil fuel industries and users paying a carbon penalty to protect and restore rain forests or pay the real costs of developing the alternative technologies and behaviours that are required to halt climate change.

    Current wisdom indicates that there is too little happening too slowly.

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