The Business of Climate Change Solutions

José Maria Figueres Olsen, President of Carbon War Room

The Commitment – Summer 2014, SIDS Special

The Carbon War Room, founded by Sir Richard Branson, is an international nongovernmental organization which aims to tap into the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-based solutions to climate change.

 José Maria Figueres Olsen, President the Carbon War Room and former President of Costa Rica, told The Commitment more.

 The Commitment President Figueres, why did Sir Richard Branson choose the name – the ‘Carbon War Room’ for this initiative?

José Mariá Figueres Olsen As Sir Richard has often said, the world faces a common enemy in climate change more devastating than the impact of both World Wars. During WWII, Sir Winston Churchill set up a war room to bring together the best minds to win the war. Likewise, Sir Richard decided to set up the Carbon War Room (CWR) to bring together the best business minds in the world, to transform the challenge posed by climate change into the greatest opportunity humanity has ever had to mobilize capital and technology, support innovative entrepreneurial business models, and create new jobs that reduce carbon emissions in a profitable way.

Q Your mission is to accelerate the adoption of business solutions that reduce carbon emissions to advance a low carbon economy. How do you go about implementing this initiative?

A The War Room focuses on dismantling market barriers to capital and getting money moving to climate change solutions that are profitable today, using proven technologies within current policy frameworks. Whether it’s getting financing moving into building energy efficiency, creating valuable information for markets on vessel efficiencies in shipping, making great technologies accessible to increase mileage in trucking, or attracting capital to island economies to switch off fossil fuels and turn to renewable energies, our aim is the same: to create unstoppable momentum in the market for the demand of clean technologies and energy efficiency. We identify and work in sectors where emissions can be reduced profitably, and where there are barriers preventing greater adoption of low carbon solutions. Within these sectors, we launch operations and collaborate with the sectors’ stakeholders to advance these solutions. Our current operations include Shipping Efficiency, Building Efficiency, Renewable Jet Fuels, Smart Island Economies, and Trucking Efficiency. We enjoy many partnerships with the private sector, from Delta and Virgin Atlantic to Vestas and Grundfos. Specifically, other partnerships include RightShip on the Shipping Efficiency Operation, the Rocky Mountain Institute across many operations, the North American Council on Freight Efficiency for Trucking Efficiency, and US Department of Energy, Homer Energyand DNV GL on our islands operations.

Q Does The Carbon War Room have a plan of action to turn islands to a low carbon economy by introducing renewable energy into their economy? And, as a follow-up, how will these countries sustain this transition financially?

A The Carbon War Room has an operation that works to define and realize a low-carbon future with reliable, affordable renewable energy for Caribbean islands. We work at both a regional and national level, providing bespoke project services. Caribbean islands are in a unique position to reduce their dependence on imported fossil fuels and benefit from the positive environmental, social, and economic impacts of using sustainable energy sources. They suffer from some of the highest electricity prices in the world — perpetuating poverty, contributing to their national debt, and preventing any form of sustainable development. The current reliance on fossil fuels for electricity is unsustainable. Despite an abundance of sun and wind, there is relatively little implementation of renewables on Caribbean islands due to several barriers, such as local permitting and long-term fossil fuel contracts. As a consequence, Caribbean countries spend a large portion of their GDP on imported fuels thereby constraining socio economic development. This makes the transition to renewable energy even more financially attractive to islands than to many other economies and all the more essential to their economic viability. They can combine their abundant renewable resources with economically viable technologies to become more independent and resilient.

Q What lessons have you learned from the partnership between the Government of Aruba and the Carbon War Room to transition the island to 100% renewable energy?

A Leadership is essential. Aruba has a visionary leader in Prime Minister Mike Eman who understands the opportunity in shifting to a low carbon economy, thus improving livelihoods of his people, becoming more competitive as an economy and more attractive as a tourist destination. Being able to articulate this vision and carry ‘hearts and minds’, is equally important.

 Q Has your ‘Ten Island Challenge’ worked as a successful model in the Caribbean and Pacific islands towards low carbon implementation?

A We went to Rio+20 with the plan of announcing our partnership with Aruba. At our event to which we invited Christiana Figueres, the Executive Director of UNFCCC, she presented us with the challenge of thinking bigger and signing up ten islands to the challenge by December 2014. Currently, the island members are Aruba, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Turks and Caicos. We hope to round up the ‘sign up’ phase with the final island in the remaining months of the year. Last February we garnered further regional commitments focused on renewables and energy efficiency in country-level commitments to projects, ranging from a 10 MW solar development to implementing energy efficiency measures on island hospitals and schools. We are lining up projects in Bahamas, St.Lucia and Grenada to open RFPs in the immediate future.

“The War Room focuses on dismantling market barriers to capital and getting money moving to climate change solutions that are profitable today, using proven technologies within current policy frameworks.”– José Maria Figueres Olsen, President of Carbon War Room