(News of the month Sept/Oct 2006).

You may have heard throughout the mainstream media that Sir Richard Branson has pledged to commit 1.66bn over the next 10 years to help combat the effects of global warming. At a news conference in New York, Sir Richard said “the money would be taken from all of Virgin Group's transport businesses, including Virgin Airlines”, he added "We are very pleased today to be making a commitment to invest 100% of all future proceeds to the Virgin Group from our transportation interest, both our trains and airline businesses, into tackling global warming,".

He made this announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative, which was set up by the former US president Bill Clinton to create a "community of global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges".

Mr Branson said that for his generation to hand over a near-pristine world to its children, "we must rapidly wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels" and that "Hopefully this contribution will help our children experience our beautiful world and encourage others to also do what they can."

Airlines companies are under increasing pressure to act as fears grow about the impact of global warming, with many experts being of the opinion that the annual % rise in air travel is compounding the problem of increased levels of the global warming gas Co2. Some environmentalists including Greenpeace, Friends of the earth and Political parties such as The Green Party (the only party with a clear commitment to debate and resolve this issue) argue that only a huge reduction in air travel will have a positive impact are sure to dismiss the announcement as Sir Richard's latest publicity stunt.

At Green ISP we encourage such moves by Mr Branson but would like to see him go even further, by investing similar or more amounts of money into replacing short hall flights with replacement “super efficient,-high speed trains” which are many times less carbon emitting than short hall air travel. Sir Richard said that future dividends and proceeds from the sale of assets, including shares from Virgin's airline and train operations, would be invested in renewable energy initiatives.

This commitment follows last week's announcement by Sir Richard of a new Virgin Fuels business which will invest up to $400m in renewable energy initiatives over the next three years. Speaking to the Guardian in June, the former US vice-president Al Gore - who made the hit global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth - said he had talked to Sir Richard about aviation fuel, which is a one of the single biggest sources of carbon dioxide. Speaking about Virgin Atlantic and other airlines, Mr Gore said: "They're aware of it ... there will have to be a day of reckoning that takes this into account." In the spring of this year, environmentalists accused Virgin Atlantic of double standards over their tree planting initiative designed to offset the carbon emissions from limousines used to drive its upper class customers to airports but sustainable transport activists said the step to make the limousine service carbon neutral would be tiny compared with the amount of harmful pollution caused by the airline's fleet of 33 aircraft.


Many environmentalists argue the booming market in cheap flights is a disaster for the climate and have called on politicians to legislate so that the truer environmental cost is reflected in ticket prices, driving down demand.

Green ISP has already argued that airline companies should have to pay a similar proportion (if not higher) amount of tax as motorists, as motorists have to pay on a sliding engine Co2 emissions scale as vehicle owners, why do airline owners not have to do the same even though they emit double the Co2 According to the government's Co2 emissions formula, each kilometre travelled by an airline passenger on a long-haul flight accounts for 0.11kg of carbon dioxide. The Guardian calculated that offsetting Virgin Atlantic's entire annual flight operation would involve planting 59m trees. The environmentalist George Monbiot has argued that there were no easy technological answers to curb carbon dioxide emissions by aircraft and that the situation would only be improved by cutting the number of planes.


And with all the talk of Co2 in the air, what about the fact that cientists have uncovered evidence that levels of the greenhouse gas methane will rise sharply in the next few years, warming the planet faster than previously expected. The new data from an international team of scientists has revealed that while methane levels began to level off in the 1990s, emissions from human activity started to climb again before the end of the last century.

Phillipe Bousquet at the Laboratory of Sciences of Climate and the Environment in Paris joined scientists from the US , Australia , the Netherlands and South Africa to examine methane levels in the atmosphere from the early 1980s using a network of 68 ground-based tracking stations around the world. The upturn in man-made emissions was masked by a drop in the methane released naturally from wetlands, by unusually dry weather.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists are worried that with the likelihood of wetter weather this will return the wetlands to their normal state within the next five years, boosting the amount of methane in the atmosphere by 10m tonnes a year. Although methane levels are 200 times lower than the most widespread greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule, it is 20 times more effective at retaining heat in the atmosphere.

They discovered that methane levels fell from nearly 12 parts per billion in the 1980s to four parts per billion in the 1990s. But their calculations show that the slowing of emissions was only partly to do with strict limits imposed on industry. Since 1999, levels of methane from human activity have been rising in Asia , consistent with a surge in coal usage in China .



Sept/Oct 2006