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Richard Branson Joins Forces With Amory Lovins in Climate Fight

Image: Sir Richard Branson before the official unveiling of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

Sir Richard Branson before the official unveiling of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California on Dec. 7, 2009. ROBYN BECK / AFP - Getty Images

Sir Richard Branson's climate change-fighting foundation is aligning forces with one of the world's most heady alternative energy think tanks to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, the two organizations said Tuesday. First up: Helping Caribbean island nations shift away from dependence on diesel fuel.

"Together we can go further, faster," Branson, the entrepreneur who founded Virgin Atlantic Airways, said in a statement announcing the alliance between his Carbon War Room and Amory Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing market-based solutions to drive global energy use away from fossil fuels.

Executives from both organizations tapped to lead the alliance described it as a marriage between an agile and young entrepreneurial organization full of make-it-happen passion with one that is steeped in analytical rigor, insight and thought leadership.

"If we work together, the synergies and the economies of scale will together make us much more effective and will allow us to have more impact on addressing the energy transformation," Jules Kortenhorst, the chief executive of Rocky Mountain Institute and leader of the new alliance, told NBC News.

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Ten Island Challenge

The Caribbean effort is a Carbon War Room project announced earlier this year. The idea is to move island nations toward renewable sources such as solar and wind combined with improved energy efficiency.

Lovins' organization "brings to the Caribbean more than three decades of technical expertise developing energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions that can get islands off their fossil fuel dependence," Jose Maria Figueres, president of Carbon War Room and board chairman of the alliance, told NBC News in an email.

The Carbon War Room organized the challenge and mobilized the business community to invest in the region. To date, the Bahamas, Aruba, Colombia, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Turks and Caicos have signed on to the challenge.

The Rocky Mountain Institute will "figure out how we are going to practically make this happen," explained Kortenhorst, noting that people have talked about shifting the islands from diesel-based power generation for a long time "but it hasn't been getting done" despite ample solar and wind resources in the region.

Other initiatives on the table include improving the energy efficiency of trucking fleets and commercial buildings, which Rocky Mountain Institute analysis suggests will put money in the pockets of business owners and real estate investors.

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Shifting winds

The alliance was announced on the heels of news that a climate deal is taking shape that would, for the first time, see commitments from nearly 200 countries to reign in greenhouse gas emissions at the root of human-caused climate change. The deal is expected to be finalized in Paris next December.

"We may be observing a true turning of the tide with coordinated international action to combat climate change," Figueres said. "But we cannot afford to wait another year to see if an agreement in Paris goes far enough, fast enough."

"Even if it does," he added, "any international agreement will need to be back-filled with real action. The time to mobilize is now."

How effective the new alliance will be at mobilizing real action is difficult to gauge, noted Dan Reicher, the executive director of the Steven-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University, who is familiar with both organizations. Challenges will be how they operate under the revised leadership, scope of the joint mission and operating budget.