In the bunker: entrepreneurs wage war on carbon

If you want cheering up, a visit to the Carbon War Room web site may do the trick. Not everything has to wait on government action. Richard Branson is one of the founders of the organisation. “Harnessing the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change”is how it describes its work.

Branson explains:

“Why is an entrepreneurial approach needed? Entrepreneurs play a unique role in tackling environmental problems head on because we spot possibilities where others only see obstacles. We convened the Carbon War Room to deliver sustainable market models to increase the effectiveness of climate change efforts underway.”

Businesses active in the sustainable energy world are represented on the Board. The CEO is Jigar Shah (pictured), the founder of SunEdison, a large solar energy company which now has more solar energy systems and megawatts under management than any other company. Among his credentials is the fact that he sits on the boards of the Prometheus Institute and Greenpeace USA.

Seven theatres of war are identified – electricity, transport, the built environment, industry, land use, emerging economies, carbon management. There are battles to be fought in each theatre. Several are under way, but for this post I’ll concentrate on Operation Rock the Boat, focused on shipping in the transport theatre.

The shipping fleet, which carries over 85% of all cargo worldwide, emits more than one billion tons of CO2e, making it the world’s sixth largest emitter when compared to countries.  It doesn’t need to produce this level of emissions: existing technology presents an opportunity for up to 75% efficiency gains, with many required investments repaid in less than three years. Improvements can be focused on relatively few vessels to make a difference, since only 15% of the fleet accounts for 50% of emissions.

Carbon War Room (CWR) has identified two key leverage points. The first is that there is at present no ubiquitous standard by which a ship’s environmental impact can be understood.  A platform for accountability is needed.  Second, there is a principal agent problem, analogous to the landlord who lacks incentive to retrofit if the tenant pays the energy bill. The companies that build and retrofit ships do not receive sufficient economic benefit from environmental impact improvements – the consequent savings go to the clients.

CWR’s objective is to play a key support role in putting the shipping industry on the pathway to inevitable transformation within five years. This will in part be triggered by mandatory efficiency labeling in place by 2011 in some regions. A transformed fleet could cut emissions by over half a billion tons annually by 2020, on a path for reductions of over one billion tons by 2050. The transformation will self-finance because of decreased operating expenses.

Here’s the strategy:

“We are building a strong coalition of shippers and their clients, port authorities, financiers, technology providers, NGOs, and industry experts.”

There are five critical components in their approach.

  1. A rating system to create a benchmark efficiency that influences key stakeholder decisions.
  2. Early adopters. Using leaders to send a clear signal to industry that innovative businesses will embrace the new standards.
  3. Unlocking legal barriers. Charter party agreements and shipyard contracts are dated and do not reflect the lifespan efficiency economics of a vessel.
  4. Policy innovation.  Accelerate adoption and enforcement of new regulations on shipping efficiency reporting.
  5. Science. Improve understanding of the link between black carbon from shipping and Arctic ice cap melt and support research of alternative technologies.

I was impressed by the operational planning. All success to them in their coalition building

In this short Youtube clip Jigar Shah, after talking about Earth Day, explains more of the thinking behind the Carbon War Room. I particularly appreciated his affirmation that a low-carbon future is not inimical to our economies. I’ve transcribed a few sentences:

“There are many people who still believe that the solutions that we’re pursuing through entrepreneurs are going to hurt our economic growth. And I think that’s simply not true. I think with the innovation we’ve seen over the past ten years and before, that we actually have the technologies today to switch to a low-carbon future while still pursuing all of the economic growth that we expect and deserve [need?] to bring the billions of people round the world out of poverty”.

26 thoughts on “In the bunker: entrepreneurs wage war on carbon”

    1. Yes, there's an ambiguity to his position, though not so far as I can see to his conviction that climate change is real and must be resisted. There's an interesting <a href ="http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/nothing-like-a-dame-how-vivienne-westwood-traded-a-couture-lifestyle-for-the-front-line-of-the-eco-war-1739905.html">exchange between him and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood recorded in the Independent which gives some insight into how he reconciles his business interests with his climate change concern.

      1. What are we all worried about? Richard Branson thinks he will have a commercial zero carbon fuel alternative in five or six years according to that article. Crisis over we can all go home now.

          1. LOL!!!

            Is Richard Branson that much of an economic illiterate that he thinks he can develop a zero-carbon based fuel just for his airline???

            Perhaps you could expand on your opinion why he can't replace all liquid fuel with this amazing solution Gareth.

    2. The very same. But in his defence, you will find many who think that CATS (cheap access to space) is about the only way out of the resource/climate crunch. Note how many sci-fi stories involving mining asteroids, for instance. And engineering a space mirror to reduce sunlight would only be possible with CATS.

  1. You guys must be in a purple patch with the addition of this beauty — Shah is a great guy!

    Re CATS, Gareth, would you know whether they have a special yet for deniers.. would have to be an offer they could not refuse.. 🙂

  2. The planned trips to space set up by Branson and others are only to low earth orbit and therefore have limited commercial potential beyond tourism. If you believe that the west needs to seriously downscale consumption then you should support cutting this sort of frivolous and wasteful activity first.

    1. I think you mean sub orbital. a la John Glenn. Low earth orbit is where every astronaut has gone except for 24 Apollo astroauts between 1968 and 1972.

  3. I like what they're doing – a lot. But it's a real bugger that it's all couched in such macho and tired language. War on Drugs, War on Poverty, and now a War on Carbon. And given that cooperation is probably what we need more than anything, it seems counterproductive to be utilizing these adversarial terms. And did I mention that this feels like yet another boys club too?

    Again – love the mission, but really…. kind of reminds me of why I didn't find Avatar to be anti-war or pro-environment.
    My recent post how new green marketing could change the world

    1. Julie, Lester Brown has used the WW2 analogy for some time without any adversarial intention, but rather as a reminder that rapid change of direction for an economy can be achieved. And the Earth Policy Institute of which he is founder has a preponderance of women staff. The female presence is not entirely absent from the war room – there's a woman member of the Board and two on the executive team. They don't look like token figures, but granted they're a minority..

      1. I'm with Julie. Watch a few episodes of The Pacific and remind yourself that war is primarily about killing people and the "dramatic regearing of the economy" as Gareth so euphemisticaly puts it, was about building weapons to kill 60 million people. If you need an analogy, find a less repugnant one.

  4. I like what they're doing – a lot. But it's a real bugger that it's all couched in such macho and tired language. War on Drugs, War on Poverty, and now a War on Carbon. And given that cooperation is probably what we need more than anything, it seems counterproductive to be utilizing these adversarial terms. And did I mention that this feels like yet another boys club too?

    Again – love the mission, but really…. kind of reminds me of why I didn't find Avatar to be anti-war or pro-environment.
    My recent post how new green marketing could change the world

  5. I understand your point, Julie, but I take the use of \”war\” imagery to be more about the problem requiring a wartime sort of response — a dramatic regearing of the economy in pursuit of decarbonisation, much as the US transformed its industrial base at the start of WW2 to produce planes, ships and tanks.

      1. Yes, but my point is that economic collapse will affect us before climate change.

        We can try to fix the climate, but it will merely hasten our economic demise. China and India are waiting in the wings to pick up the ruins of our nations.

        And are they doing anything about CC? I don't think so.

          1. China may be outstirpping in terms of renewables, but its overall economic growth is so staggering we can lose sight of the amount it is increasing CO2 emissions by.

            Is it one or two coal fired power stations a week?

            And of course, NZ is happy to export coal to China, whilst claiming to be an environmentally friendly nation.

            Sorry, I don't think I am being unduly pessimistic. Watch the UK turn the lights out before the decade is out.

  6. No, but like Climate Scientists, they probably stick to theory

    Would AlexB be so kind as to proffer a level of certainty in respect of the probable inferred. ?

    Second. if I may observe, it appears that the Austrian economic model has imbued your mind: would you therefore be so kind as to simply state its two great attributes and several serious limitations in the global context of our world today..

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