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Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Branson pledges billions to battle global warming

CARING AND SHARING The Virgin Group boss said profits from its transportation businesses would be used to fund environmental initiatives

AFP , NEW YORK

Former US president Bill Clinton, left, listens as Richard Branson speaks to the media after announcing his commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative on Thursday in New York. Branson, the man behind the multi-platform Virgin brand, said he would invest about US$3 billion to combat global warming over the next decade.

PHOTO: AP

British mogul Richard Branson pledged on Thursday to spend US$3 billion in the next 10 years on a variety of projects to combat global warming and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of the Virgin Group of companies made the announcement in New York at the Clinton Global Initiative headed by former US president Bill Clinton and aimed at tackling key global problems.

"We have to limit our dependence on fossil fuels," Branson said. "We hope that this contribution will help in some small way to enable our children to enjoy this beautiful world."

Branson said that the Virgin Group will invest all future profits from its airline and train businesses into renewable energy initiatives within the company and in other investments in new biofuel research and other projects to tackle emissions related to global warming.

Branson and his company "believe that all businesses, especially those involved in transportation, energy, and particularly fossil fuels such as coal, must be at the forefront of developing environmentally-friendly business strategies with a focus on replacing traditional energy with energy coming from renewable sources," a Virgin Group statement said.

To demonstrate their commitment, the company said that all "dividends, realizations and share sales" from Virgin's transportation interests "will be invested into renewable energy initiatives ... to tackle emissions related to global warming."

"We currently estimate this commitment to be US$3 billion over the next 10 years," the statement said.

Virgin said the initiative would take the form of investment in new fuel technologies through an investment unit called Virgin Fuels, for which Branson's group has pledged US$400 million in the next three years.

The first investment project of Virgin Fuels will be in a California company called Cilion doing research on new kinds of ethanol production.

Further investments over the next three years will be made in Europe and other parts of the world, the company said.

"Virgin has always worked hard to minimize our environmental impact at every level of our businesses -- from operating the youngest fleet of aircraft of an airline flying anywhere in the world today, and the latest fuel-efficient Airbus 340 and Boeing 737 aircraft in our airlines, down to printing double-sided on recycled paper and using fair-trade coffee in our offices," the company said.

Branson was recently ranked by Forbes magazine as the 245th richest person in the world, with a net worth of US$2.8 billion.

He made his initial fortune in the record industry and heads the Virgin Atlantic airline, but he has also launched a number of other companies in sectors as diverse as railways, mobile phones, Internet access, condoms and soft drinks.

The Clinton Global Initiative, which is focused on climate change, global health, easing religious and ethnic conflict and reducing poverty, said that it had raised a total of US$5.7 billion this year, including the pledge from Branson.

"Richard's commitment is groundbreaking not only because of the price tag -- which is phenomenal -- but also because of the statement that he is making: Clean energy is good for the world, and it's good for business," Clinton said in a statement.

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