British billionaire Richard Branson said business leaders were left dumbfounded by President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that companies are now even more driven to invest in clean energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“Whether it’s GE, or whether it’s the big oil companies… I haven’t come across one business person who doesn’t want to get out there and do everything they can to try to compensate for the [Trump] administration’s very strange stance,” Branson said on a Wednesday call with reporters.
“A lot of people in the world are baffled by the American administration’s comments,” the Virgin Group CEO said.
Trump and his top officials have made quick work of unraveling not only the former Obama administration’s policies to fight climate change, but even longstanding scientific research programs. Trump himself has never acknowledged the overwhelming scientific consensus that the world is warming primarily due to human emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane.
On June 1, Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the international climate agreement, which commits countries to reducing emissions to limit global warming. The president has rolled back regulations to reduce emissions and pollution from fossil fuel production, and he’s issued orders to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.
Trump’s top officials — including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency — have repeatedly denied the scientific evidence that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are the leading drivers of climate change.
The agencies they lead are both facing billions of dollars in budget cuts and steep job losses as the administration curtails funding for climate science, renewable energy, and energy efficiency while doubling down on coal, oil, and natural gas projects.
Branson, a business magnate and philanthropist, is an outspoken climate activist (and a friend of former President Obama). His nonprofit organization Carbon War Room, which merged with the Rocky Mountain Institute, works to boost clean energy technologies in the U.S. and globally.
On Wednesday, he announced a new initiative, called Run on Less, that aims to promote fuel efficiency in long-haul trucks. In September, seven U.S. trucking fleets will participate in a cross-country roadshow to demonstrate how aerodynamic trailers, smarter driving practices, and other steps can significantly lower a conventional truck’s fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions.
Branson acknowledged that Class 8 trucks are conceptually far less sexy than, say, glassy solar panels or towering wind turbines. But he noted that trucks, cars, trains, and planes are now the biggest source of U.S. carbon emissions, accounting for about one-third of the total.
“If you don’t go after transport emissions, you’re going to fail” in fighting climate change, he told reporters. “So it’s critical that we reduce them.”
Beyond backing today’s technologies, Branson also invests heavily in cutting-edge clean energy innovations. He’s put money into Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion fund launched by fellow billionaire Bill Gates, to support new forms of clean energy. Branson has also invested in Rise, a $2 billion “social impact” fund to support projects with social and environmental benefits.
He pointed to these investments and others as evidence that the world isn’t backing down from the climate challenge, despite the U.S. government’s about-face under Trump.
While the world was “disappointed” with Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris Climate Agreement, Branson said, “Fortunately, the other  countries have stuck with it, most states in America have stuck with it, most companies have stuck with it.”
“We are all going to get out there and create a green energy revolution,” Branson added.