The risk of doing nothing

Richard Branson

It’s clearer than ever: climate change is real, humans are the cause, and we have to act. Sometimes the riskiest decision you can make is to do nothing.

The latest report by the IPCC provides a hard-hitting and consensus-driven message on the science behind climate change. It is extremely sobering reading. But don’t just take my word for it, read the headline summary yourself.

The message is clearer than ever: the changes the world is seeing are entirely man made; and time is running out to prevent a complex web of catastrophes sending shockwaves through our economies, societies and the natural world. Nobody, from businesses, to governments, to individuals can afford to put off taking action.

As Jeremy Leggett outlines in his latest book, The Energy of Nations, businesses, including ours, need to accept that climate change presents direct and substantial risks. From direct economic shocks caused by changes to the climate system, to a ‘carbon bubble’ when climate policy eventually catches up with emitters and forces them to pay for the greenhouse gases they’ve released. However ‘good’ or ‘bad’ your business may currently be - everybody has a responsibility to do something about it.

Fossil energy companies should be investing more and more of their record profits into getting renewable, sustainable energy systems to scale. Agricultural and commodity companies should be working with those looking to restore the Earth’s ecosystems and the soils back to their naturally optimised, more productive states. Bright, innovative entrepreneurs and business people should be applying their skills to solving problems like climate change.

Carbon War Room

The key to tackling climate change is to see it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. If you take the telecoms industry as an example, you can see what bringing competition into a market can do. The telecoms market was stagnant, then competition was introduced in the US; the industry quickly transformed because the brightest minds saw the benefits - financial and otherwise - of working in telecoms. 30 years later we’ve got incredible technology at our fingertips, Twitter planning an IPO and companies like Virgin Mobile expanding across the world. 

If competition was encouraged in clean fuels, making it more attractive for entrepreneurs and businesses to focus upon tackling climate change, we would see results much sooner. The Carbon War Room is working extremely hard to find business solutions that reduce carbon emissions at gigaton scale. They are advancing the low-carbon economy by working to reduce emissions in industries ranging from shipping to building, as well as bringing 10 island economies onto 100% renewable energy. Elsewhere in Virgin, we are investing any profits from our airlines into clean fuel technology, and focusing extremely closely on ensuring our initial Virgin Galactic flights have the same carbon footprint as a return Virgin airline ticket. 

Everyone can still do more. Everybody out there needs to reduce their own personal impact, and that includes yours truly. But we also need to spread the message to politicians, employers, businesses, media, friends and family. Governments need to have the integrity, courage and determination to negotiate internationally binding agreements to cut emissions. They should introduce national policies that cut carbon emissions and simultaneously make the world a more ethical, renewable place. And climate deniers need to be called out, debated and rallied against; the science is clear enough now.

Finally, if we are to clean up legacy carbon emissions, and have a chance of meeting the ever steeper rates of emissions reduction that are required, it looks increasingly likely that scalable and sustainable ways of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere will also need to be responsibly explored, investigated and integrated. But these can only ever work in conjunction with mitigation, and must never be an excuse for business as usual.

Virgin are doing all we can within and beyond our businesses to tackle these problems, as are some other companies. But many organisations and individuals haven’t even started; or they still have their heads buried in the sand. What are you going to do?

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