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COMMENTARY | BG15
Path to a cleaner, energy-abundant world
The substantial turnout at the
People's Climate March last
month in Washington, DC,
got me thinking about one
of the most important ques-
tions facing all of us today:
how can the world make the switch to a low
carbon economy, yet still fuel the growth that
so many nations hope for?
I am often asked whether the transition to
clean energy and the carbon regulations that
have been proposed in many countries will
hinder that growth and create more obsta-
cles to economic progress. This is a favourite
argument among climate sceptics and those
with interests in the oil industry.
Lately, in my responses, I've pointed to the
research being done by organisations like the
Rocky Mountain Institute and the Carbon War
Room, which study the enormous economic
and social opportunities provided by the clean
The market is offering fledgling entrepre-
neurs the chance to create new businesses that
deliver innovative products and services to
consumers who are increasingly supportive
of clean-energy efforts.
The 2015 Paris agreement, which was adopt-
ed by 197 countries, laid out ambitious goals
with regard to climate change, among them
reaching zero net emissions in the global econ-
omy by 2050 and limiting the increase of global
temperatures to well below 2 C1/4. I believe it's
important that the business sector take the
lead now so that our society can achieve these
goals. We need to drive this change through
investment, consumer education and long-
term support of research and innovation. And
we need to start today.
So, yes, it's both technically and economi-
cally feasible to grow economies and provide
clean energy for everyone and still meet the
Paris objectives. Making that happen will re-
quire a big change in business and consumer
Lord Adair Turner, chairman of Britain's
Energy Transitions Commission, recently
detailed some initiatives that I believe could
• Clean electricity: Within 15 years, the
declining cost of power derived from wind
and solar, as well as power stored in batteries,
will make it possible to build networks that get
as much as 90 per cent of their energy from
renewable sources. Electricity may soon be
widely produced at a cost that's competitive
with power derived from fossil fuels.
• De-carbonisation: Clean electricity
could be used to power buildings and many
transportation systems. And since readily
available clean energy has led to increased sales
of electric vehicles, more clean electricity will
only foster more demand.
• Energy productivity: We need to gen-
erate a rate of growth in energy productivity
of three per cent per year through better ef-
ficiency and technology. This can be done by
producing more efficient electrical devices,
household machines and manufacturing pro-
cesses. We should also re-evaluate the energy
efficiency of buildings, houses and industri-
al processes and see where we can do better.
Simply put, we need to find ways to squeeze
more out of every kilojoule of energy!
• Better tech: We need rapid progress on
technologies that involve bioenergy and hy-
drogen fuel in order to meet thermal energy
demands. The processes involved in steel-
making, for example, often require coal to be
burned because of the high temperatures that
Electricity can't be used in place of coal be-
cause the power requirements are too high. If
we're to continue the use of carbon fuels for
such industries, we'll need to further develop
the technology around carbon capture and re-
moval in order to drive de-carbonisation efforts
within factories that require thermal energy.
• Optimisation: Over the years, I've spoken
about the need to push industries beyond coal,
and suggested that miners be offered training
so that they can transition to new jobs in clean
sectors like wind and solar.
Such training could even lead workers to
adopt clean energy processes in new and in-
novative ways. What's more (US government
take note!), if we can create more clean ener-
gy every year than there is demand, then the
price of energy overall will remain low; to the
benefit of everyone. If we don't, energy prices
could soar again.
We have been taking steps to move the
world's economy away from carbon. Let's con-
tinue to push in the right direction by bringing
government, investors and business together
and implementing these initiatives.
The time to start is now.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-
branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter
at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in
future columns. Please send them to Richard.
Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, email address and the name of
the website or publication where you read the
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