By Matthew Lavietes
NEW YORK, Oct 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — British broadcaster and leading naturalist Sir David Attenborough said on Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic threatens the fight against climate change by distracting people from the gravity of environmental dangers.
The cancellation and postponement of numerous high-level climate-focused talks and events such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, are concerning, said Attenborough, speaking with climate activist Greta Thunberg at a virtual wildlife film festival.
"I am worried that people will take their eyes off the environmental issue because of the immediate problems they have on COVID-19," said Attenborough, 94, known for his BBC nature documentary series The Life Collection and Planet Earth.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 40 million people and killed 1.1 million people worldwide, according to a Reuters tally, is surging for a second or third time in countries including the United States, India, and Brazil.
It comes as the world is struggling with unprecedented storms, wildfires, and droughts linked to climate change, experts say.
The last two decades saw the number of disasters caused by extreme weather nearly double to 6,681, up from 3,656 between 1980 and 1999, according to a report by the United Nations released this month.
Speaking from his home in London, Attenborough also struck a positive chord, praising Thunberg's success in rallying world youth to demand action.
"If there is any sign of hope, and there is, to be truthful, compared to what there was 25 years ago, it's because of what you've done and what you've done for young people," he said.
He added: "The world owes you a lot, and I hope you are not paying too high a price for it, and it looks from what you are saying that you are managing to survive alright."
The Swedish 17-year-old first attracted attention when she started a one-person protest outside parliament in 2018 and has risen to international renown, taking center stage at the United Nations and the Global Economic Forum in Davos.
In return, Thunberg praised Attenborough's new Netflix documentary, A Life On Our Planet, saying it "connected all these issues, like the climate crisis, loss of biodiversity, loss of soil, and over-fishing."
Attenborough was honored on Wednesday by the British government which named its new polar ship after the veteran naturalist.
The ship, which will make a voyage to Antarctica late next year to research climate change, just left for technical trials.
(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org). Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.