One of history’s most important climate summits is kicking off in less than a week, hailed as our last chance to take the urgent action needed to curb the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The next United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, is a crucial meeting being hosted by the UK and Italian governments that will see international leaders gather to hash out commitments to cut carbon emissions and tackle the climate crisis.
The aim of the summit, which will be held in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, is to ensure that countries work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, and ideally below 1.5 degrees. Any warmer and the effects of climate change will be even more disastrous.
Those temperature limits were set six years ago, at COP21 in Paris back in 2015, as part of the historic Paris Agreement, which was signed by 196 countries agreeing to take action to curb warming. However, with not enough progress being made since then, the pressure is on for world leaders to make COP26 a success and see climate action get on track.
This year’s COP26 “People’s Advocate” is Sir David Attenborough, the British naturalist and broadcaster, who has been using every opportunity to speak out about the climate crisis and implore world leaders to listen to citizens’ calls to act.
Attenborough has spent decades visiting the wildest reaches of the globe — and has seen firsthand the devastating impact climate change is having on both people and planet.
Here’s what he has had to say to politicians dawdling on cutting emissions, and what he thinks about what COP26 means for the world.
On Listening to the Science
In an interview just a few days before the start of the COP26 summit, Sir David used the opportunity to implore everyone to listen to what scientists have been saying for decades and take significant action now.
"What climate scientists have been saying for 20 years, and that we have been reporting upon, you and I both, is the case — we were not causing false alarms," he said, speaking with the BBC's science editor. "And every day that goes by in which we don't do something about it is a day wasted. And things are being made worse."
He said the the extreme weather seen around the world this summer proved there had not been "a fuss over nothing" when it came to experts warning about climate change.
"There are still people in North America, there are still people in Australia who say 'no, no, no, no, of course it's very unfortunate that there was that forest fire that absolutely demolished, incinerated that village, but it's a one-off,'" Attenborough said.
"Particularly if it's going to cost money in the short term, the temptation is to deny the problem and pretend it's not there," he continued. "But every month that passes, it becomes more and more incontrovertible, the changes to the planet that we are responsible for that are having these devastating effects."
On Fighting for a Green Recovery From COVID-19 at COP26
Speaking at an event in September to mark the anniversary of the UK’s first country-wide citizen’s assembly on climate change, Attenborough underlined public support for cutting emissions.
"Our political leaders now need to lead and give people confidence that all the changes needed to deliver net zero are desirable and possible for all of us,” he said.
"Parliament's climate assembly has done a truly remarkable job of highlighting the high levels of public support for climate action up and down this country, and given the government and MPs an invaluable roadmap of how it can be done,” he added.
Almost 80% of the 108 members of the citizen’s assembly agreed the government should take steps to reach net zero emissions as part of its COVID-19 recovery plans, a poll last year revealed.
Attenborough went on to say that the assembly showed how much the public wanted to participate in decisions around climate action — something that leaders at the COP26 summit should consider. “This is a message I hope this government has heard loud and clear and certainly one I plan to share with all world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow,” he said.
On Being 'People’s Advocate' for COP26
Attenborough said he was “greatly honoured” when he was named the “People’s Advocate” for COP26 in May. He used the opportunity to underline just how crucial the event would be.
He said: “There could not be a more important moment that we should now have international agreement."
“The epidemic has shown us how crucial it is to find agreement among nations if we are to solve such worldwide problems," he continued. "But the problems that await us in the next five to 10 years are even greater."
"It is crucial that these meetings in Glasgow, COP26, have success, and that at last the nations will come together to solve the crippling problems that the world now faces,” Attenborough continued.
On the Urgent Need for Wealthy Countries to Step Up
Speaking at the G7 summit hosted by the UK in Cornwall this summer, Attenborough called on the leaders gathered there to take urgent action.
"Tackling climate change is now as much a political and communications challenge as it is a scientific or technological one. We have the skills to address it in time, all we need is the global will to do so,” he said.
The G7 represents seven of the world's richest countries, and Attenborough took the chance to highlight global inequality too.
He said: "Our climate is warming fast. That is beyond doubt. Our societies and nations are unequal and that is sadly is plain to see. But the question science forces us to address specifically in 2021 is whether as a result of these intertwined facts we are on the verge of destabilising the entire planet?”
“The decisions we make this decade, in particular the decisions made by the most economically advanced nations, are the most important in human history,” Attenborough concluded.
On the Threat to World Peace Posed by Climate Change
Attenborough spoke at a special meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) this February that was specifically focused on the link between climate change and international security. The UNSC is made up of 15 world leaders responsible for monitoring peace and security issues.
“May I plead that today there are threats to security of a new and unprecedented kind. These threats do not divide us, they’re threats that should unite us, no matter from which part of the world we come, for they face us all,” Attenborough said.
He also underlined that because of the carbon dioxide emissions that have already been released, the world is already experiencing some climate change impacts that it won’t be possible to stop. But he urged the world leaders listening that they could work together to help.
“No matter what we do now, it’s too late to avoid climate change, and the poorest and most vulnerable — those with the least security — are now certain to suffer,” he continued.
“Perhaps the most significant lesson brought by these last 12 months has been that we are no longer separate nations, each best served by looking after its own needs and security," he continued. “We are a single, truly global species, whose greatest threats are shared and whose security must ultimately come from acting together in the interests of us all.”