Sir David Attenborough tells world leaders that the world is watching

At the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), People’s Advocate, Sir David Attenborough set out the challenges facing our planet, calling on world leaders to act to put our planet on the path to recovery and create a better, stable future for us all. 

In a powerful live speech delivered at the World Leaders’ Summit in Glasgow, Sir David highlighted the inequalities of climate change, which impacts most the young people and nations that have contributed the least to the problem. He also highlighted his hope that we will witness the recovery of the natural world and “a new industrial revolution” powered by sustainable innovations.

Sir David said, “If, working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet surely, working together, we are powerful enough to save it.

“In my lifetime, I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could, and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies, is why the world is looking to you – and why you are here.”

A 3-min excerpt of Sir David’s speech is available here.

Full transcript follows:

Your excellencies, delegates, ladies and gentlemen. As you spend the next 2 weeks debating, negotiating, persuading and compromising – as you surely must – it is easy to forget that ultimately the climate emergency comes down to a single number, the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere, the measure that greatly determines global temperature.

And the change in that one number is the clearest way to chart our own story, for it defines our relationship with our world. For much of humanity’s ancient history, that number bounced wildly between 180 and 300 and so too did global temperatures. It was a brutal and unpredictable world. At times, our ancestors existed only in tiny numbers.

But just over 10,000 years ago, that number suddenly stabilised, and with it, Earth’s climate.

We found ourselves in an unusually benign period, with predictable seasons, and reliable weather. For the first time, civilization was possible, and we wasted no time in taking advantage.

Everything we have achieved in the last 10,000 years was enabled by the stability during this time. The global temperature has not wavered over this period by more than plus or minus one degree Celsius …until now.

Our burning of fossil fuels, our destruction of nature, our approach to industry, construction and farming are releasing carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented pace and scale. 

We are already in trouble, the stability we all depend on is breaking.

This story is one of inequality as well as instability. Today, those who have done the least to cause this problem are being hardest hit. Ultimately, all of us will feel the impacts… some of which are now unavoidable.

Is this how our story is due to end? A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all-too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals?  

Perhaps the fact that the people most affected by climate change are no longer some imagined future generation but young people alive today, will give us the impetus we need to re-write our story, to turn this tragedy into a triumph.

We are, after all, the greatest problem-solvers to have ever existed on Earth. We now understand this problem. We know how to stop the number rising, and put it 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 1.5 degrees within reach

A new industrial revolution powered by millions of sustainable innovations is essential and is indeed already beginning. We will all share in the benefits, affordable clean energy, healthy air, and enough food to sustain us all.

Nature is a key ally. Wherever we restore the wild, it will recapture carbon and help us bring back balance to our planet. And as we work to build a better world, we must acknowledge, no nation has completed its development because no advanced nation is yet sustainable. All have a journey still to complete so that all nations have a good standard of living, and a modest footprint. We’re going to have to learn together how to achieve this, ensuring none are left behind. We must use this opportunity to create a more equal world, and our motivation should not be fear – but hope.

It comes down to this. The people alive now, and the generations to come, will look to this conference and consider one thing:

Did that number stop rising and start to drop as a result of the commitments made here?

There’s every reason to believe the answer can be “yes”.

If, working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet. Surely, working together, we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime, I have witnessed a terrible decline, in yours, you could, and should witness a wonderful recovery.

That desperate hope, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies, is why the world is looking to you… Sir David’s speech took place at the opening of the World Leaders’ Summit in Glasgow on 1st November 2021.
Livestream provided by UNFCCC – or see COP26 YouTube
B-roll information
Dropbox link – including clips of the speech