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‘It’s Too Late’: 5 Key Things to Know From David Attenborough’s UN Climate Change Speech

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 13 for climate action in many ways underscores Global Citizen’s whole mission: we cannot end extreme poverty if we don’t avoid ecological catastrophe. This year is absolutely crucial if we’re going to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. Join our movement and take action to protect the environment here.

When Sir David Attenborough speaks, people listen.

Whether that’s the 88% of people who changed their lifestyle after watching Blue Planet II, or the Queen deciding to ban plastic straws from Buckingham Palace years ahead of the UK’s national rules coming into force, the 94-year-old documentarian has got into our heads.

So when he says “it’s too late” to avoid climate change, it should be taken seriously.

Attenborough's warning came during a speech on Tuesday to the United Nations' Security Council (UNSC) — a group of 15 world leaders responsible for world peace. 

He was invited to speak by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired this month’s session. It was the first ever time the UNSC had devoted its meeting to the security risks posed by the climate emergency.

Of the 15 council members, five have permanent seats: the UK, the US, China, France, and Russia. 

Attenborough’s grave intervention came the same day the head of the UK’s Environment Agency said the world was already hitting “worst case scenario” levels on the climate crisis. Without more action, he said that ecosystems everywhere face catastrophe.

It’s a big year for climate. In November, the most significant international climate conference since the Paris Agreement — called COP26 — is being hosted by the UK government in Glasgow, Scotland. If the world is going to get back on track, this will be a vital moment for action.

"The UNSC is tasked with confronting the gravest threats to global peace and security, and that's exactly what climate change represents,” Johnson said at the meeting. "Unlike many issues the council deals with, this is one we know exactly how to address."

He added: "By helping vulnerable countries adapt to climate change and cutting global emissions to net zero, we will protect not only the bountiful biodiversity of our planet, but its prosperity and security."

Attenborough urged the council to recognise the threat of the climate crisis to global security, question existing economic models, and put a value on nature beyond money.

He said this may very well be our last chance. Although it’s impossible to now avoid climate change, the broadcaster insisted that if the world came together now, a healthy balance was still possible.

Here are some of the key points to highlight from his message to world leaders.

1. 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. 

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2. We are today perilously close to tipping points that once past will send global temperatures spiralling catastrophically higher. If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security. 

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3. We have left the stable and secure climatic period that gave birth to our civilizations. There is no going back. 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. 

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4. 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. We are a single, truly global species, who’s greatest threats are shared and who’s security must ultimately come from acting together in the interests of us all.

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5. And through global cooperation we may achieve far more than tackling climate change. We may finally create a stable, healthy world, where resources are equally shared, and where we thrive in balance with the rest of the natural world. We may, for the first time in the entire history of humanity, come to know what it feels like to be secure.

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