Sir David Attenborough has been named the “People’s Advocate” of the UN Climate Change Conference or COP26, which the UK is hosting in Glasgow in November.
The renowned broadcaster, nature historian, and staunch climate advocate has been tasked with the role of “inspiring action” ahead of the summit, the British government said in a statement.
Attenborough’s role will involve making the “compelling case for climate action” to both global leaders and the public, where his job will also be “to evidence the progress underway, and to highlight the actions decision makers will need to take ahead of and at COP26.”
Attenborough said he was "greatly honoured" to be given the role, in a video statement released in response to the announcement.
“There could not be a more important moment that we should now have international agreement,” he said. “The epidemic has shown us how crucial it is to find agreement among nations if we are to solve such worldwide problems. But the problems that await us in the next 5 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 added.
The 95-year-old has become a national treasure in Britain, beloved for his decades of work presenting nature documentaries that have educated people in the UK and around the world about the animal kingdom.
In the past few years he has turned his attention to documenting the devastating impact climate change is having on the natural world through biodiversity loss and pollution, with powerful series such as Netflix’s Our Planet and the BBC’s Extinction: The Facts.
His work has had a huge impact on bringing the issue to the heart of public opinion — in 2018 research found that 88% of people who watched his documentary Blue Planet II, which included an episode on plastic pollution, changed their lifestyle.
Attenborough has become an ardent campaigner and speaker on the topic of the climate crisis outside of his TV documentary work too — he gave a speech to the UN Security Council in February this year, demanding leaders do more.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of Attenborough’s latest COP26 role: “Sir David Attenborough has already inspired millions of people in the UK and around the world with his passion and knowledge to act on climate change and protect the planet for future generations. I am hugely grateful to Sir David for agreeing to be our People’s Advocate.”
All eyes will be on the UK for COP26, the annual climate change summit run by the United Nations, as global leaders will descend on Glasgow to agree targets for carbon emissions reduction.
In April, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK would speed up its carbon emissions reduction plans and committed the UK to reducing emissions by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035.
The new target, enshrined in UK law, has been described as “world-leading”, but experts say early and significant changes are needed in the here and now for the goal to be reached.
Climate campaigners have also criticised the government’s decision to cut the UK aid budget by £4.6 billion this year, arguing that it will have devastating consequences for lower income countries which need support dealing with the immediate impact of the climate crisis, such as increased flooding and extreme weather events.