February 13, 2007 Sir Richard Branson’s US$25 Million Virgin Earth Challenge focuses on the biggest single problem faced by humanity today - global warming. It steps across the national boundaries which have prevented anyone a full appreciation of the damage we have done to the environment and the gravity of the consequences of messing with the planet’s ecosystem. There may not be a single effective solution to this problem but if there is, the Virgin Earth Challenge is the best chance we can see of finding it. Given that these is no effective common approach on the horizon to a potential extinction event, we applaud the initiative wholeheartedly. The Virgin Earth Challenge will award US$25 million to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least ten years without countervailing harmful effects. This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth’s climate.
Sir Richard also announced that he would be joined in the adjudication of the Prize by a panel of five judges - all world authorities in their respective fields: Al Gore, Sir Crispin Tickell, Tim Flannery, Jim Hansen and James Lovelock. The panel of judges will be assisted in their deliberations by The Climate Group and Special Advisor to The Virgin Earth Prize Judges, Steve Howard.
The timing of the announcement of the Virgin Earth Challenge was particularly apt given the recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes, which last week announced that temperatures on earth could increase by as much as 6.4C by the end of this Century.
The report, the most comprehensive to date from a UN Agency detailed the catastrophe results which even seemingly small temperature raises could have on our planet: at + 2.4C coral reefs around the world would become extinct; + 3.4C would result in the rain forests becoming deserts; an increase of + 4.4C would result in the ice caps melting and severe heat waves across the globe displacing millions; the IPCC further predicted that sea levels could rise by 5 metres if temperatures reached + 5.4C which would result in ten of millions of climate refugees.
For the first time ever a 6.4C raise was mentioned within UN predictions. If this were to occur it would result in most of life on our planet being exterminated.
Sir Richard Branson commented: “We all now know that something radical has got to be done to turn back the tide of global warming. By launching the $25 million Virgin Earth Challenge, the largest ever science and technology prize to be offered in history, we want to encourage scientists and individuals from around the world to come up with a way of removing lethal carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere.”
“By competing for this prize they will follow in the footsteps of many of history’s greatest inventors and innovators. But in this case potentially save the planet. It is our hope and belief that the winner of The Virgin Earth Challenge will help to reverse the collision course our beautiful world is currently on. They will not only make history but preserve history for many, many generations to come.”
“However, it is important to remember that there is a real possibility that no one will win this prize. Governments, and their people, must continue to use every effort to radically reduce CO2 emissions.”
The Virgin Earth Challenge will initially be open for five years; the judges will meet annually to determine whether a design has been submitted during the previous year that in their view should win the prize and, if so, they may award the prize without waiting for the five year period to elapse. If no winner has been selected at the end of five years, the judges may decide to roll the prize forward for a further period on the same.
Al Gore commented at today’s Press Conference: “Carbon dioxide levels already are far above anything measured in the prior 650,000 year record, and just last week in Paris scientists gave us their strongest warning yet of the consequences of inaction. So the dangers are clear. But the opportunities, if we take action now, are innumerable, and Sir Richard’s initiative to stimulate exploration of this new approach to the climate crisis is important and welcome.”
James Lovelock continued: "To escape the consequences of global heating we need far more than Kyoto, far more than renewable energy and sustainable development. What we need is a near miracle to undo the harm that we have done. Sir Richard Branson's hugely generous prize could sow the seeds for a miraculous invention that would let us make a sustainable retreat to that lush and comfortable world we once knew. We have all spent far too long sleepwalking towards extinction."
Sir Crispin Tickell: “We need a significant, lasting and harmless reduction in the volume of green house gases in the atmosphere. To this technology can make an important contribution. This Prize is a marvellous encouragement to all who have bright and practical ideas on how best to tackle one of the major problems of our time.”
Dr James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies: “I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change ... no longer than a decade, at the most. This is why I am supporting the Virgin Earth Challenge as a judge – we must explore all means, both known and unknown, to help alleviate this crisis.”
Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers, gave a stark warning on the cost of inaction: “If we continue as we are, humanity will so pollute our atmosphere this century that we will create another world, the likes of which has not been seen for 50 million years. And we will destroy human civilisation in the process.”
Sir Richard Branson concluded: “We would also like to call on governments and members of the international community to join us in The Virgin Earth Challenge by matching or adding to the prize pot available to encourage the greatest number of entrants of those who could come up with a solution which could save our planet. If the greatest minds in the world today compete, as I’m sure they will, for The Virgin Earth Challenge, I believe that a solution to the C02 problem could hopefully be found – a solution that could save our planet - not only for our children but for all the children yet to come.”
The creation of the Virgin Earth Prize is one of a number of initiatives including investment in renewable energy research, development and production as part of Virgin Group's "Gaia Capitalism" project and 3 billion dollar Clinton Initiative pledge of September 2006.