“If we don’t act now, it will be too late.” This is Sir David Attenborough’s warning ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The broadcaster claims that the richest nations have “a moral responsibility” to help the poorest in the world.
And it would be “truly catastrophic” if we ignored their problems, he told me in an interview with BBC News.
“Every day that goes by that we don’t do something about it is a wasted day,” he said.
Sir David and I were speaking at London’s Kew Gardens while filming a new time series, The Green Planet, which will air on BBC1 next year.
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Our conversation has ranged from the latest climate science to the importance of COP26 to the pace of his working life.
The UN climate science panel recently concluded that it is “unequivocal” that human activity is increasing global temperatures.
And Sir David said that this showed that he and the others didn’t “hype for nothing”, and that the risks of a warmer world are real.
“What climate scientists have been saying for 20 years, and what we have been reporting, both you and I, is the case: we weren’t causing false alarms.
“And every day that goes by that we don’t do something is a wasted day. And things are getting worse.”
But he said the report did not convince everyone and that they are acting as a brake on efforts to tackle climate change.
“There are still people in North America, there are still people in Australia who say ‘no, no, no, no, obviously it’s very unfortunate that there was that bushfire that completely demolished, burned that village, but it’s a what … off ‘.
“Especially if it will cost money in the short term, the temptation is to deny the problem and pretend it isn’t there.
“But with each passing month, it becomes more and more incontrovertible, the changes to the planet we are responsible for are having these devastating effects.”
Its call for an urgent response reflects the latest scientific assessment that to avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures, global carbon emissions must be halved by 2030.
This is why the next few years are described as “the decisive decade” and why the COP26 talks are so crucial to getting the world on a safer path now.
As things stand, emissions are expected to continue to rise rather than begin to decline, and Sir David sounded more exasperated than I had heard before.
“If we don’t act now, it will be too late,” he said. “We have to do it now.”
We have moved on to the issue of accountability, a very controversial issue that will hang over the conference. Developing countries have for years accused the richest nations, which first started polluting the atmosphere, of not taking on their share of the burden.
The argument is that they should make the deepest cuts in carbon emissions and provide help to those who need it most. A long-standing promise of $ 100 billion a year for low-carbon development and building stronger defenses against more violent weather has yet to be fulfilled – reaching that total will be a key test of whether COP26 will have success or not.
For Sir David, this is one of the most troubling challenges, and he says it would be “truly catastrophic” if threats to poorer nations were ignored.
“Whole parts of Africa are likely to be unlivable: people will simply have to relocate due to advancing deserts and rising heat, and where will they go? Well, many of them will try to enter Europe.
“We say, ‘Oh, it has nothing to do with us’ and cross our arms?
“We caused it: our type of industrialization is one of the main factors in producing this climate change. So we have a moral responsibility.
“Even if we didn’t cause it, we would have a moral responsibility to do something for thousands of men, women and children who have lost everything, everything. Can we just say goodbye and say it’s none of our business?”
I finally asked about his hectic workload at age 95, from filming documentaries to speech at the G7 summit, the United Nations Security Council and the Duke of Cambridge’s Earthshot Prize.
The COP26 world climate summit in Glasgow in November is considered crucial if climate change is to be kept under control. Nearly 200 countries are being asked for their plans to reduce emissions and this could lead to major changes in our daily lives.
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“I don’t plan much in advance – as you say, I’m 95. How long can you go on? It’s not in our gift to say those things or know those things.
“All I know is that if I get up tomorrow and feel I can do a decent job, then I will happily do it and be grateful.
“And the day will come when I will get out of bed and say, I don’t think I can. When will it happen, who knows? I don’t know.”
After watching him spin for five hours straight, staying not only focused but also in a good mood, I suggested that he still loved what he was doing.
“At the moment, I feel it would be a waste of opportunity to just stand back and not do the things I think are very important to do that I am well positioned to do.”
What about the next big engagement in Attenborough’s diary? Nothing less than speaking, virtually or in person, to what will be the largest gathering of world leaders ever to be held on British soil: COP26, in a few days.
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