Virgin Galactic's Sir Richard Branson has an estimated net worth of £3.8billion and owns Necker Island in the Caribbean

Sir Richard Branson has claimed that a 10mph reduction in speed limits on British motorways could ‘save lives’ in Ukraine and help to defeat Vladimir Putin’s forces by cutting dependency on Russian oil.

The 71-year-old British billionaire and Virgin Galactic founder, who has an estimated net worth of £3.8billion, said the upper limit on roads should drop from 70mph to 60mph so that drivers reduce their fuel consumption.

As Russia continues to rake in billions of pounds a day from countries in Europe purchasing its oil and gas, Sir Richard told CNBC: ‘Lives will be saved by, you know, by just in the UK alone by reducing the speed limit.’

While Russia provides only about 4 per cent of the UK’s gas, experts say that Britain reducing its consumption would then free up fuel to be sent to other European nations who are more reliant on Russia’s exports. 

He said: ‘If we can reduce the West’s dependence on fuel, by, say, just 10 per cent, that will free up something like 3 billion barrels of fuel. That will be plenty to make sure countries like Germany do not have to import any more.’

But Sir Richard’s comments come in the context of his Virgin Galactic space programme, with experts saying rocket launches emit 200 to 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide per launch. Its latest SpaceShipTwo launch last July had six passengers including Sir Richard, meaning this could have equated to up to 50 tonnes per passenger. 

Long-haul plane flights emit a much smaller one to three tonnes of carbon dioxide per passenger, but Virgin Galactic has said ‘CO2 emissions per passenger on a spaceflight will be equivalent to approximately 60 per cent of a per passenger return commercial London to New York flight’. The firm has not yet broken down these figures.

There were 114 attempted rocket launches in 2020, compared to the airline industry average of about 100,000 flights each day – but rocket emissions end up in the upper atmosphere and stay there for up to three years.

While Virgin Galactic has insisted it has a focus on ‘environmental sustainability’, calculations by the Financial Times last year revealed that a trip to the edge of space with the company emits 12kg of CO2 per passenger per mile, compared to 0.2kg of CO2 for a business class transatlantic return trip from London to New York. 

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, which launched last year over New Mexico, uses a hybrid propellant based of a solid carbon-based fuel called ‘hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene’ (HTPB) and nitrous oxide (N₂O). In simpler terms, the engine burns rubber and leaves behind a cloud of soot, with experts saying it effectively works like a candle.

Sir Richard, who also owns the Virgin Atlantic airline which has pledged to be Net Zero by 2050, did not explain during the interview with CNBC yesterday how his own businesses would reduce their fuel consumption. 

Virgin Galactic's Sir Richard Branson has an estimated net worth of £3.8billion and owns Necker Island in the Caribbean

Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson has an estimated net worth of £3.8billion and owns Necker Island in the Caribbean

Virgin Galatic's SpaceShip Two Unity 22 heads towards space after separating from a carrier plane over New Mexico last July

Virgin Galatic’s SpaceShip Two Unity 22 heads towards space after separating from a carrier plane over New Mexico last July

Sir Richard Branson with crew members Beth Moses and Sirisha Bandla floating in zero gravity on board Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity after reaching the edge of space above Spaceport America in New Mexico last July

Sir Richard Branson with crew members Beth Moses and Sirisha Bandla floating in zero gravity on board Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity after reaching the edge of space above Spaceport America in New Mexico last July

Amid the ongoing war, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of this year – with Britain currently importing around 8 per cent of its total oil from the country as well as 18 per cent of diesel. 

Sir Richard added that a 10mph speed reduction by drivers in the International Energy Agency’s member countries would reduce fuel use by enough to ‘sort out those countries who are importing fuel from Russia’.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah: Air pollution targets an ‘insult’ to girl’s memory 

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah

A mother whose nine-year-old daughter died due to dangerous levels of air pollution has described the Government’s climate targets as an ‘insult’ to her memory.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose nine-year-old daughter Ella suffered a fatal asthma attack in 2013, spoke on an air pollution conference panel in Borough, central London, along with three experts on Wednesday.

The conference marked one year since Coroner Philip Barlow urged the Government to set legal air pollution limits based on 2021 World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and to launch a public awareness campaign in response to the school child’s death.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death

The Government is currently working towards meeting the WHO’s older 2005 guidelines by 2040.

Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah told the panel: ‘It really is a bit of an insult to Ella’s memory when I think about it. What they are telling the British public is: ‘We will meet the 2005 target by 2040′. I try not to get emotional about it, but my concern is that it’s not going to change life for an asthmatic child who lives by a busy road and who is breathing toxic air.’

The family lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, South East London. Ella was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

He also urged airlines to consider reducing the number of flights to cut down on fuel burnt and called on firms and households to turn down central heating and air conditioning to cut overall usage by 1 per cent.

In addition Sir Richard, who owns Necker Island in the Caribbean, urged Western countries to increase the amount of military aid being delivered to Ukrainian forces to save the ‘breadbasket of the world’.

He said: ‘It’s not the time for neutrality. We say that there’s a need for increased military aid. Nato governments should immediately authorise the transfer of the weapons that Ukraine has asked for.’

One of the countries that has pushed back against Western plans to increase military aid to Ukraine is Germany, which currently sources up to 34 per cent of its oil and 55 per cent of its gas from Russia. 

Meanwhile oil prices rose this morning as concerns about supply due to a potential European Union ban on Russian oil came to the fore, days after diminished supplies from Libya rocked the market.

Brent crude futures rose $1.32, or 1.24 per cent, to $108.12 a barrel today. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained $1.26, or 1.23 per cent, to 103.45 a barrel, adding to a 19 cent gain in the previous session.

Analysts said market volatility is likely to pick up again soon, with the EU still weighing a ban on Russian oil for its invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a ‘special military operation’.

Vandana Hari, founder of oil market analysis provider Vanda Insights, said: ‘EU discussions to ban or phase out Russian oil purchases, the biggest influence on crude prices in recent days, are on the back-burner but not settled yet, which may limit crude prices to a relatively narrow range on a daily settlement basis.’

Libya, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), yesterday said the country was losing more than 550,000 barrels per day of oil output due to blockades at major fields and export terminals.

The demand outlook in China continues to weigh on the market, as the world’s biggest oil importer slowly eases strict Coid-19 curbs that have hit manufacturing activity and global supply chains.

The International Monetary Fund highlighted risks in China when it cut its forecast for global economic growth by nearly a full percentage point on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s Black Sea terminal could return to full capacity this week, Kazakh Energy Minister Bolat Akchulakov said yesterday. 

‘The resumption of CPC crude deliveries will be somewhat offset by continuing outages in Libya and the likelihood of more Russian crude getting locked out of market in face of an EU ban,’ Ms Hari said. 

Ukrainian soldiers walk on a destroyed bridge in Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv yesterday as the Russian invasion continues

Ukrainian soldiers walk on a destroyed bridge in Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv yesterday as the Russian invasion continues

The M25 between junctions 13 for Staines and 12 for Thorpe on Good Friday. Sir Richard has called for a speed limit reduction

The M25 between junctions 13 for Staines and 12 for Thorpe on Good Friday. Sir Richard has called for a speed limit reduction

The oil market remains tight with Opec and allies led by Russia, together called Opec+, struggling to meet their production targets and with US crude stockpiles down sharply in the week that ended April 15.

Jeffrey Halley, analyst at Oanda, said: ‘I continue to expect that Brent will remain in a choppy $100.00 to $120.00 range, with WTI in a $95.00 to $115.00 range. 

‘A potential European oil embargo on Russia next week after French elections, could see a move towards the top of the range.’ 

SPI Asset Management managing director Stephen Innes said: ‘There is not much incremental news overnight, with a trajectory from here really hinging on whether other nations join the UK/U.S. in banning Russian oil imports.’