18 November 2007

Dubai will disappear if climate change fails to be addressed

Beirut - The Palm and the World projects in Dubai will disappear underwater in 50 years if the issue of climate change fails to be addressed by governments, Sir Richard Branson has warned delegates at day one of Leaders in Dubai.

"Over the next 50 years we will see the Palm projects( pictured right) and the World flooded by water and disappear if the issue of climate change is not addressed by global governments," the Virgin Group chairman said. "We are continuing to create this blanket of carbon that is getting thicker and thicker every year and which will ultimately heat up to such an extent that every fish will die and the earth will become uninhabitable."

Sir Richard has committed $3 billion of Virgin's own profits to developing clean energy and has offered $25 million to anyone who can eradicate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Asked whether running an airline and a space tourism company was hypocritical while at the same time championing the need to reverse climate change, Branson said: "We can either sell our planes to British Airways or Emirates and watch their shareholders reap in the profits or we can carry on and take 100% of our profits and put them into trying to develop a fuel that will change the environment."
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In June 2008 Virgin will launch the world's first biofuel run Boeing 747 plane with 20% of the plane's fuel will be made up of biofuels.

Sir Richard warned other Gulf countries by saying that oil reserves were fast depleting and that they should follow the example set by Dubai. "In five years time Dubai will run out of oil, but it has diversified its assets and interests enough with 95% of its income derived from tourism, property and music shops," he joked. "Other countries in the region should learn from what Dubai has done and they should beware that conventional fuel will begin to decline in the next five to 10 years."

The charismatic entrepreneur added that "every company" should join the fight against climate change by employing a "green ambassador".

"In the Middle East you have the sun. I can see a time in the future where whole countries are powered by the sun and the wind. I have two islands in the Caribbean and next year we'll become carbon free for the first time. I have asked the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic government whether we can make them carbon free as well."

Sir Richard added that his Virgin Galactic space flights, that are scheduled to launch either in late 2008 or early 2009, would fly from Dubai to Sydney in 30 minutes in 10 to 20 years. "We will fly you out and back into the atmosphere using energy efficient fuel easily beating NASA's current effort of wasting two weeks energy supply of New York City each time it launches a Space Shuttle."

On whether companies should invest in Lebanon Branson said: "Lebanon is and was a beautiful country and people must invest in Lebanon. It would be too sad to see it go back to the tragedies of the past. If you go to the top of our restaurant on the roof of our music store there you can see the wastelands of Lebanon and what it once was. ( In reference to Hezbollah tents right in the center of the city ). We should do all we can to rebuild the country and make sure that Lebanon doesn't become an acceptable risk."

Meanwhile Branson hinted at the Virgin Group's potential purchase of troubled UK mortgage lender Northern Rock that has lost over $6 billion and its CEO in this year's credit crisis. "We put in the proposal yesterday to take it over and turn it into the Virgin Bank in order to give the Big Four UK banks a run for their money and well know in a few weeks whether or not we've been successful."

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.