David Attenborough delivers speech at COP26
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But yesterday at COP26, it took a 95-year-old to describe the dangers of our overheating planet and to speak for future generations. Sir David Attenborough used his global fame to hammer home to some 120 world leaders at the summit in Glasgow just what is stake for the world – and to offer hope in the fight against climate change.
The TV naturalist’s voice often seemed to crack with emotion in a passionate address as he urged delegates – including US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari – to “turn this tragedy into triumph”.
Sir David, once voted the most trusted Briton, was speaking as the COP26 People’s Advocate, an appointment by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The veteran campaigner warned delegates that the real test of the summit’s success was one number – the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – and whether the measures adopted brought it down from its current high of 419 parts per million. He told how prehistory levels swung between 180ppm and 330ppm but this number had risen dramatically with the Industrial Revolution.
The change came about, he insisted, because of “our burning of fossil fuels and destruction of nature, our approach to industry, construction and learning, our releasing of greenhouse gases at an unprecedented pace”.
Sir David added: “We are already in trouble. The stability we all depend on is breaking.” He warned that the world’s poorest nations are in the frontline of a crisis they did not cause.
He said: “Those who have done the least to cause this problem are being the hardest hit. But, ultimately, all of us will feel the impacts, some of which are now unavoidable.”
Sir David paused to show a film of polar bears on melting ice with a young woman commenting: “I am absolutely terrified to bring a child into this world.” He said: “Is this how our story is due to end? The tale of the smartest species doomed by that all-too-familiar human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals?”
The people most affected by climate change will be “young people alive today”. He added: “Perhaps, this will give us the impetus we need to rewrite our story, to turn tragedy into triumph. We are, after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth. We now understand this problem. We know how to put the number in reverse.
“We must halve carbon emissions this decade. We must recapture billions of tonnes of carbon from the air. We must fix our sights on keeping 1.5C within reach. A new industrial revolution powered by millions of sustainable innovations is essential. We will all share in the benefits – affordable clean energy, healthy air, and enough food to sustain us all.”
Sir David told world leaders: “The people alive now, and the generations to come, will look to this conference. If working apart, we are powerful enough to destabilise the planet, surely working together, we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could witness a wonderful recovery.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned our “addiction to fossil fuels is digging our graves”. He said that in the past decade four billion people had suffered climate-related disasters and for small islands rising sea levels were a death sentence.
He added: “The sirens are sounding. Our planet is talking to us. I urge you, Choose solidarity. Choose to safeguard our future and save humanity.”
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