The price of oil will hit US$200 a barrel, ushering in an era of unprecedented economic upheaval and mass unemployment, says Sir Richard Branson.
This doomsday scenario was predicted by the flamboyant British billionaire, whose businesses include commercial aviation and space travel, at the opening of the UN-sponsored climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.
Such a disaster would be averted only by a dramatic change in energy policies, he said.
"We are going to have the mother of all recessions if we don't sort out our energy policy fast," Sir Richard said. "We think we've got it bad today. In five years' time unemployment could go to 15 per cent without any difficulty at all in America."
In Cancun, delegates from almost 200 countries have one more week to negotiate emissions reduction levels and what methods countries can use to earn credit under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) - methods such as carbon capture and storage, which many think would be beneficial in the Gulf region.
After last year's talks in Copenhagen ended in a non-binding accord signed by fewer than three-quarters of participants, there was little hope for Cancun, treating it as a prelude to next year's meeting in South Africa.
As of yesterday, those predictions appeared to be true: in a two-page "shared vision" statement, just 170 of 1,300 words were left uncontested.
The UAE's delegates are pushing for the faster transfer of clean technologies from developed countries to emerging markets, said Dr Sultan al Jaber, the UAE's Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change and the head of the country's delegation to Cancun.