We are seeing a really exciting embrace of renewable energy on a huge scale around the world that is disrupting entire industries.
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to think of a world powered by renewable energy. It is fast becoming necessary - to cut air pollution and combat climate change.
The facts are shocking - if fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, average global temperatures would be on course to rise by more than four degrees by the end of the century. This has the potential to wipe out many species, cause global food shortages and mass migration.
California is a really exciting example of a state trying to change the status quo. It was wonderful to read about how Senate President Kevin de León has put forward a plan to produce 100 per cent renewable energy within California’s electricity grid by 2045.
Governments around the world have a huge part to play, but businesses also have the power to prevent catastrophic climate change.
For example, Virgin purchased the BMR Jamaican Wind Farm in August 2016, which has a strong pipeline in the region. The group has also invested in M-Kopa, an off-grid solar power company in East Africa, helping impoverished families gain access to energy.
Virgin is also driving efficiency across all of its companies. I was really pleased to see that Virgin Atlantic has managed to cut its aircraft carbon emissions by over 20 per cent in the past decade.
I also recently discussed the urgent need for action to be taken on climate change at an innovation summit with DS Virgin Racing, when I was in New York for the Formula E race.
It was great to hear President of the Empire State Realty Trust, John Kessler, explain that they have been working with the Rocky Mountain Institute and others to improve the sustainability of the world’s most famous building. The project has hugely reduced their energy use, and saved them millions of dollars. The Rocky Mountain Institute does brilliant work in bringing down carbon emissions in every sector; removing market barriers that are stopping solutions being put in place.
The shift to green power is already happening. It’s really positive news to see that global renewable power generation capacity rose by nine per cent last year, and sales of plug-in electric vehicles soared by 42 per cent.
Developments in the renewable sector are becoming too important for oil and gas companies to ignore. Seven oil and gas groups, including France’s Total, Royal Dutch Shell and Norway’s Statoil, have together invested almost $15bn in renewables over the past four years.
But for the climate the sums involved and pace of change are nowhere near enough. Oil, gas and coal are still largely keeping the world’s lights on, cars running and homes warm. Coal and gas-fired power plants are still being built and planned, especially in the developing world where more than a billion people lack electricity. Though more and more renewable alternatives are starting to out-compete for investment.
Progress is happening on a huge scale, but we really need to go faster and harder to solve the problem of climate change. Market forces and advancing technology will help restructure the energy economy, but we all need to drive the pace of change even more. Not just by the stark realisation that the future we leave for our children and grandchildren depends on it - but also because of the cleaner, healthier and more abundant future for all that we can make in the process.