The headline is actually the PG version. On Saturday night, at the World Climate Summit, the high-flying entrepreneur behind the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, delivered a message to the negotiators at the U.N.’s climate change meeting, COP 16, in Cancun, Mexico, which continues this week: “Just do it, for God’s sake. Get off your a**es and get on with it.”
The “advice” came out of an onstage interview with both Branson and CNN (s twx) founder and environmentalist Ted Turner, and Turner echoed the call to action: “Let’s do it. Let’s do it now before it’s too late. Let’s stop doing the dumb things and let’s start doing the smart things.”
What both Branson and Turner are asking is for the group of negotiators at COP 16 to find common ground and to create some sort of agreement on countries’ carbon emission reduction goals. That’s looking like a very difficult task, given countries are split over whether to continue with and extend the Kyoto Protocol, which has a deadline of 2012 (what developing countries want), or to beef up the Copenhagen Accord (what the U.S. wants) and abandon Kyoto (what Japan sounds like it wants).
Branson urged the delegates to start with small targets, as did United Nations Framework Convention on Climcate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres in a speech on Saturday morning. Branson: “As long as they do it fairly and equally and across industries and on a global basis, no one’s going to suffer. And it doesn’t have to be very much initially and then encourage people to go after clean energy.”
It’s clear that if the negotiations stall again in Cancun — as they did last year in Copenhagen — businesses will be ever more responsible for stepping into the role of implementing energy efficiency and clean energy as part of their corporate strategies. Branson, who co-founded the Carbon War Room, a group for business leaders to come together to fight climate change, said, “Between us all, with enough commitment, we’ll have to get on top of it.”
Sunil Paul, early stage cleantech investor and founder of the Gigaton Throw-Down project, expressed a similar sentiment to me last week, saying, “Even in the absence of government action, companies are taking actions.” Branson and Turner spoke in conversation during a dinner for Paul’s Gigaton Awards, held at the World Climate Summit, and which awarded prizes to businesses that showed leadership in carbon emissions reductions. 3M (s mmm) won the overall award, while Vodafone (s vod), Nike (s nke) and Suzlon received awards in their respective categories.
The interview was one of the first times that Turner and Branson appeared in conversation together, and when asked if they would work together to help businesses fight climate change, Turner said, “We’re toiling in the same vineyard, and we’re in contact with each other. When we can help one another, we’ll do it.” The two genuinely seemed to like each other, and when the interviewer pointed out that Branson’s space port was being built next to Turner’s ranch, Branson joked, “Anywhere in America is next to Ted’s properties.”
The COP negotiations continue this week, and will likely get more heated later in the week as countries’ ministers arrive.
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