Mark Woodall: Saving the planet all part of the job to green capitalist

A day in the life of the Chief executive of Climate Change Capital
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The Independent Online

4.45am

If your day job is saving the planet - in your six-year-old son's eyes, at least - then Monday was not the day to begrudge having to haul yourself out of bed before dawn. Mark Woodall, who has raised more private money to help slash greenhouse gas emissions than anyone else in the world, knows today could go down in history as the tipping point in the battle against global warming.

The chief executive of the specialist investment bank Climate Change Capital (CCC) is in demand at such an unearthly hour to talk to insomniacs and fellow early risers about the one story that will dominate the news agenda for today and months to come: an apocalyptic report on climate change by the former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern.

Luckily he is only the brother of the style superqueen Trinny Woodall, not married to her, so he gets away with just throwing on the nearest suit and dashing out the door. Within minutes he is heading to White City to be quizzed on the implications of a Government-commissioned report that will warn of death and destruction on a Biblical scale unless the entire world wakes up to the threat of rising temperatures.

"It will be irresponsible to continue consuming fossil fuels without any regard to their effect." The Stern report, grim reading as it was, put an economic stamp of approval on CCC's very DNA: persuading people to stump up vast sums of cash to invest in a low-carbon economy.

6.20am

The interview done and dusted, Mr Woodall is in work an hour earlier than normal, giving him a window to tackle the e-mail backlog after his trip last week to China. Ordinarily he would have arrived in his baby G-Wiz, an electrically powered baked bean tin on wheels that gets him from Stockwell family home to his Mayfair office at minimal cost to the earth's atmosphere. But today he is cabbing it between media interviews, which will prove handy come midday when he gets his hands on the 575-page epic that is the Stern report.

Mr Woodall, a former Army officer who saw the carbon-neutral light after studying for an MBA at Cranfield, helped James Cameron, one of the architects of the Kyoto Protocol, to set up CCC in 2003. The niche bank hit the headlines in September when it raised the biggest ever carbon fund at $1bn (after that created by the World Bank). The wads of cash, pledged by the likes of Centrica and two giant Dutch pension funds, are being invested in projects that reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Its very own eco-capitalism has so far helped a dirty Chinese company to clean up its act by incinerating the toxic gas produced by its refrigerant process rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. This generates carbon credits, a virtual currency that can be sold in Europe and other markets with emission trading schemes, creating a virtuous circle of carbon reduction that will eventually stop the world from overheating. Or so the theory goes.

Despite the dire prophecies espoused by the likes of Sir Nicholas and Al Gore, Gordon Brown's new environmental frontman, Mr Woodall takes a sunnier view of life warmed up. "It's not doom and gloom. People go, as Al Gore says, from denial to despair without stopping off at opportunity." He says CCC is about that "opportunity ... Making good returns for investors and making good returns for the planet."

8am

Although CCC's focus is corporate, it is working on a project to help consumers to shed a carbon footprint size or two. It is preparing to launch a carbon-friendly version of air miles which lets shoppers accumulate carbon credit points via a loyalty card scheme with retailers that they can use to offset their carbon activities, such as flying or driving. Mr Woodall meets some of the big high-street names working on the initiative, which will be ready to launch early next year. He hopes the scheme will help consumers to get their heads round the theory of carbon offsetting, which comprises vastly more than just planting a few trees.

"It's an intangible," he admits, professing sympathy with those still struggling to comprehend the logic. "What is a ton of carbon offset? You can't go and see it, it's purely a policy-driven instrument. What we do and what [the Kyoto Treaty's CDM, or Carbon Development Mechanism, which lets developing countries sell carbon emissions to the Western world] is trying to achieve is to offset our carbon emissions globally. It doesn't matter where a tonne of carbon is. If you can get it out of the atmosphere it is a benefit to society."

9am

This logic leads straight into Mr Woodall's next meeting, with some of his London-based colleagues and some in the firm's new Beijing office (who one hopes haven't been airlifted in especially for the occasion). China is the world's number one carbon offset market because it is the cheapest place to take carbon out of the atmosphere. "That's the whole point of a trading system that allows Western capital to invest in developing markets at the cheapest overall price of reduction." He reckons more than half of its $1bn fund will go into carbon-friendly projects in China. CCC will then enter into contracts to buy all the carbon reductions produced by whichever wind farm or coal mine it has backed, so that when the project comes good, delivering carbon reductions against a historical baseline, it can trade those contracts around the world. Hopefully in the sort of global carbon market that Sir Nicholas advocated setting up.

Given that China is opening a new 1,000 megawatt power station every week - and within a year will have more new capacity than exists now in the UK - it's little surprise that CCC sees the most potential from any venture that promises to solve the toxic conundrum of "clean coal combustion". Cracking this environmental bête noire would vastly improve the world's chances of stabilising carbon dioxide levels at 550 parts per million (ppm), which is far too close to the current level of 382 ppm for comfort.

12.30pm

As Tony Blair is launching "the most important report on the future" published by his Government, Mr Woodall is frantically skimming the 28-page summary on his way back to White City for more interviews. For him the Stern report lays to rest the idea that there is "one single technology bullet" (a theory favoured by the US). Instead it will take effort and hard cash - 1 per cent of global GSP, around £200bn - to cut carbon dioxide emissions by the required 60 per cent by 2050. This, according to Sir Nicholas, will only knock the world's economic trajectory back by six or nine months come 2050. "The scientific debate is over. Human activity, through the combustion of fossil fuels, is the major cause of climate change. The economic debate seems also to be over. So now really it's the political debate that people need to engage in," is the mantra Mr Woodall dishes out throughout the course of the day.

2pm

Making the most of being in west London, Mr Woodall checks out some schools in Fulham for his six-year-old (the one who when asked by a teacher what Daddy does says "he saves the world"). He says he's no "open-toed sandal-wearing recycler" but takes the "do good, do well" mantra into his personal life as far as is easily practicable. He can't, for example, fit a solar panel on his Grade II listed house, and nor is he vegetarian (he hasn't calculated the amount of carbon from eating methane-emitting cows). But he does light his home with electricity produced by wind farms, and he does have that electric car. He prefers Borough Market to farmers' box schemes, however.

6.15pm

Once home after yet another television appearance, he is again glued to his Blackberry before grabbing a brief respite over dinner. He is back on air at 10pm, this time sitting outside his house in a BBC radio car for a Radio 5 debate on climate change. He collapses into bed at 11.15pm, "talked out".

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