By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, Sept 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British billionaire Richard Branson said on Tuesday he is in talks to set up a fund to help Caribbean nations recently ravaged by Hurricane Irma replace wrecked fossil fuel-dependent utilities with low-carbon renewable energy sources.
The British business magnate has approached governments and would rally support among financial institutions and fellow philanthropists on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"As part of that fund we want to make sure that the Caribbean moves from dirty energy to clean energy," he said.
Branson, who has lived in the British Virgin Islands for the past 11 years, weathered Irma on Necker, his private island.
In a blog post on www.virgin.com, he said the Caribbean needed a "Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan" to aid in recovery and the long-term revitalization of its economy - a reference to the U.S. program that helped rebuild Western Europe after World War Two.
With much of his property flattened by the storm but for "a massive bank of solar panels", Branson said renewable energy would make Caribbean islands more resilient to future hurricanes.
Branson who heads the Virgin Group conglomerate has been a long advocate of clean energy, co-founding in 2009 the Carbon War Room to accelerate the adoption of business solutions that reduce carbon emissions.
Branson has already met with government representatives from Britain and the United States, said Jules Kortenhorst, who heads the U.S.-based Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit that has merged with the Carbon War Room. Tuesday's meetings will include talks with the Inter-American Development Bank, he said.
Still, with another storm, Maria, barreling toward the British Virgin Islands, where a hurricane warning is in effect, Branson said the first priority was to "deal with immediate aftermath of that and just making sure everybody is all right."
Caribbean islands have typically generated power by burning diesel, which produces planet-warming carbon dioxide, said Kortenhorst. Scientists have for years warned that global warming will increase the frequency of freak weather events.
The Category 5 hurricane Irma left a trail of death, destruction and chaos across Caribbean islands from Cuba to Antigua and Saint Barthelemy to St. Martin before striking the U.S. state of Florida where it also wreaked havoc.
Branson, who sought refuge in the wine cellar of his home during Irma, still appeared shaken from the experience.
"I've been involved in talking out about climate change for a number of years now ... I never thought I was going to be in the frontline in quite the way I was two weeks ago," he said at an event on fuel efficiency.
"It was just like an atomic bomb had hit everything."
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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