Look around you -- the furniture in your office or house, the electronics, the clothes you are wearing, mostly likely some of your dinner -- chances are these things moved by boat. About 85 percent of worldwide cargo travels by ship, and so it’s no surprise that shipping is a major contributor to climate change.
According to Richard Branson’s new NGO, which is called the Carbon War Room, the global shipping fleet is the equivalent on the sixth most polluting country in the world:
Annual CO2e emissions currently exceed one million tons and are projected to grow to 18 percent of all manmade CO2e emissions by 2050. Yet existing technology presents an opportunity for up to 75 percent gains in efficiency, with required investments repaid in just a few years.
Fixing shipping will take bold ideas -- see the ship at left, which is equipped with a kite from a company called SkySails -- and it will take simple ones, like slowing ships down a little, adopting the equivalent of a 55 mph limit on the open seas. (See this New York Times story, which is literally about a slow boat to China.) And it will require bringing shipping companies, customers, regulators and others to work together to attack the problem.
Opportunities like these interest the Carbon War Room, which says its focus is to harness the power of business to bring about market-driven solutions to climate change.
“We believe that climate change is the greatest challenge facing humankind,” says Jigar Shah, the CEO of the Carbon War Room. “And we need a war room-like effort to combat it.”
I spoke recently with Jigar at the NGO’s new offices in downtown Washington. We’d met a couple of years ago, when he was running SunEdison, a solar industry startup, backed by Goldman Sachs, that was among the first to sell solar energy as a service (buy electricity, not PV panels), a business model that appealed to big customers including Wal-Mart. Jigar, who is 35, left SunEdison at the end of 2008 and became the top exec of Carbon War Room last June.
Branson, who runs Virgin Group (airlines, music, telecom, green energy etc.), started Carbon War Room with Craig Cogut, the founder of private-equity firm Pegasus Capital, and Boudewijn Poelmann, the co-founder a chairman of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, a private lottery that raises money for good causes. (The Dutch lottery gave $1.3 million last year to the Rocky Mountain Institute.)
Our approach is to identify the barriers that are preventing market-based scale up of climate change solutions and thereby perpetuating the status quo. In addition to technology and policy gaps, these barriers include principal-agent problems, information gaps, and lack of common standards or metrics.