10 February 2007

Global Climate Change: Branson's $25M greenhouse gas prize

According to Reuters, Virgin Airline's Richard Branson announced Friday a $25 million prize for "the first person to come up with a way of scrubbing greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere in the battle to beat global warming."

"Flanked by climate campaigners former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and British ex-diplomat Crispin Tickell, Branson said he hoped the prize would spur innovative and creative thought to save mankind from self-destruction.

"'Man created the problem and therefore man should solve the problem,' he told a news conference to reveal the Virgin Earth Challenge."

"Unless we can devise a way of removing CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the earth's atmosphere we will lose half of all species on earth, all the coral reefs, 100 million people will be displaced, farmlands will become deserts and rain forests wastelands."

According to the report, "Branson rejected suggestions that he, as an airline owner, was being hypocritical in announcing the prize."

Colleagues of mine wondered if the prize would apply to forest conservation and restoration. But one expert pointed out that, if Branson "is taking about actual removal of gas from the atmosphere as against reduced emissions, the only way we could do it would be by accelerating our forest restoration activities. Assuming he is only talking about a US billion rather than a British billion, this would still unfortunately require some 56 million ha of restored forest using the NZ average sequestration rate of 18tonsCO2/ha/yr as a global average (probably optimistic)."

He added that the Pew Centre for Climate Change "estimate(s) the costs for forest sequestration in the US at something like $7.50-$22.50 per ton of CO2 requested. This means that the cost of restoration would be 300 times what Branson is offering, even if the lower range proved to be the global average. It could easily be a 1000 times what he offering."

Someone else suggested Branson simply ground Virgin flights indefinitely. But Branson suggested that "British Airways would simply take its place." Branson has said that he is investing heavily in cleaner airplane engines and fuels.

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