Oil prices may soar to US$200 a barrel if the world doesn’t move more rapidly to a clean-energy economy, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, said in an interview.
“It’s certainly conceivable unless we can start to conserve energy quickly and come up with alternative fuels,” Branson said on Saturday in Cancun, Mexico, where countries are meeting to negotiate a new accord to combat climate change.
Branson predicts an “unbelievably painful” economic slump if governments don’t do more to encourage renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels such as oil.
In the US, where efforts to cap carbon-dioxide emissions failed in the Senate earlier this year, unemployment could reach record highs, the British billionaire said.
“We are going to have the mother of all recessions if we don’t sort out our energy policy fast,” Branson said earlier in the day at the World Climate Summit in Cancun. “We think we’ve got it bad today. In five years time unemployment could go to 15 percent without any difficulty at all in America.”
Branson, 60, spoke alongside US billionaire Ted Turner, founder of Cable News Network. Branson and Turner, 72, also will speak today at the two-day conference focused on how businesses can help combat climate change.
Meanwhile, negotiators from about 190 countries are grappling with how to proceed in UN-led treaty talks to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Industrialized and developing nations are divided over the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Japan, Russia and Canada have refused to sign up for a second round of emissions reductions once the current ones written into Kyoto expire in 2012.
Emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil are “completely unanimous” in their position that developed countries must agree on a new commitment period, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said on Saturday. Discord over Kyoto threatens to take attention away from talks for a new global climate agreement that includes the US, she said. The US is the only developed nation not part of Kyoto.
Turner urged countries to reach agreement.
“Let’s do it,” he said. “Let’s do it now before it’s too late.”