Billionaire Richard Branson on Thursday committed to spending all the profits from his airline and rail businesses an estimated $3 billion (1.6 billion pounds) over the next 10 years on combating global warming.

The Virgin Group chairman, whose company also includes music and mobile phone ventures, has already created Virgin Fuels, which will invest $400 million (210 million pounds) over three years in renewable energy initiatives as part of his pledge.

But profits from the Virgin Group's transport businesses, which make up nearly half the company, will also be spent on separate investments in biofuel research, development, production and distribution, and projects to tackle emissions through a planned Environmental Trust.

We have to wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels. Our generation has the knowledge, it has the financial resources and, as importantly, it has the will power to do so, the flamboyant 56 year old entrepreneur said.

Branson, who has a knighthood and is known as much for his daredevil stunts as his business, unveiled his plan at a news conference at the Clinton Global Initiative, a summit run by former U.S. President Bill Clinton to combat world problems.

The second annual New York based initiative, which ends on Friday, has brought together some of the world's richest and most influential people to brainstorm and commit money to fight world problems.

By Thursday night the total value of commitments made was more than $5.7 billion (3 billion pounds), surpassing last year's total of more than $2.5 billion (1.3 billion pounds).

Richard's commitment is groundbreaking not only because of the price tag which is phenomenal but also because of the statement that he is making: clean energy is good for the world and it's good for business, Clinton said.


The pledge comes one day after the Bush administration said it was committing $3 billion to climate technology research and development. Climate experts and members of Congress criticised the administration's plan as long delayed and inadequate.

Branson said he used to be sceptical about climate change, but reading a lot of books on the issue changed his mind.

His decision to commit billions of dollars to the cause came after former U.S. vice president and long time environmentalist Al Gore visited him in England a year ago.

He's hoping by Virgin doing something like this it will attract other companies, Branson told Reuters Television.

Then instead of it being $3 billion, hopefully it can be $50 billion (26.3 billion pounds) or $100 billion (52.6 billion pounds) and that's the kinds of resources that are going to be needed to come up and invent a fuel that is actually going to take on oil.

He said oil and coal alternatives were urgently needed.

I really do believe the world is facing a catastrophe and there are scientists who say we are already too late, but I don't believe that is the case. The majority of scientists think we can still do something about it, he said.

Most international experts say emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars, are the primary cause of a 1.1 degree F (0.6 C) rise in temperatures over the past century.

A dwindling group of scientists say the dominant cause of warming is a natural variation in the climate system, or a gradual rise in the sun's energy output.

I think it's a very encouraging step. Richard Branson prides himself in being ahead of the field, so I hope it will lead to other people taking note, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in New York.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gardner)