‘Rewrite our story’: David Attenborough calls on world leaders to act at Cop26

World leaders made their pitches on tackling the climate crisis at the opening ceremony in Glasgow

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent at Cop26 in Glasgow, Scotland
Monday 01 November 2021 19:53
Cop26: David Attenborough urges world leaders to turn ‘tragedy into triumph’
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Sir David Attenborough, in an impassioned speech during the opening ceremony of Cop26, told world leaders that there is still time to “rewrite our story”.

Sir David, 95, was in attendance at the climate summit on Monday in Glasgow, where he was one of the first people to speak before more than 100 leaders.

“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you should witness a wonderful recovery,” the naturalist said.

The aim of Cop26 is not to produce a major new deal; rather, it is the moment that the rubber hits the road on the Paris Agreement. Under the 2015 accords, countries committed to return after five years to pledge greater emission-reduction targets. But scientists are sceptical that nations will go far enough to hit crucial targets.

The global temperature rise must be kept to an increasingly ambitious 1.5C above pre-industrial times, or “well below” 2C, to prevent even more extreme consequences. Currently, the world has heated up by about 1.1C.

In his unmistakable tones, Sir David noted that those who have contributed least to the climate crisis are being hit the hardest, and that along with recapturing “billions of tonnes of carbon from the air”, we must see “nature as our ally” in reducing future impacts.

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

His speech was accompanied by a video which focused on the rising concentration of carbon that humans have pumped into the atmosphere, destabilising earth’s systems.

“The people most affected by climate change are no longer some imagined future generation, but young people alive today,” Sir David said.

“Perhaps that will give us the impetus we need to rewrite our story.”

Cop26 comes on the heels of the G20 summit in Rome, which yielded disappointing results from the gathering of some of the world’s largest polluters.

On Monday morning, world leaders were met by UK prime minister Boris Johnson and UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres in front of a blue backdrop featuring planet Earth as they arrived on the heavily fortified Glasgow campus.

Mr Johnson was the first to speak at the opening ceremony, in which he warned that future generations would react with anger if leaders did not turn the situation around. Mr Johnson made a lengthy comparison with the fictional Scottish spy James Bond, comparing global warming to a ticking-down “doomsday device”.

Mr Guterres was blunt: world leaders are “digging our own grave” by failing to act, he said. But Mr Guterres, who has held the UN’s top position since 2017, said that some signs of progress were encouraging – and threw his support behind a “climate action army led by young people”, whom he dubbed “unstoppable”.

President Joe Biden told the world during the opening ceremony that America would “lead by the power of our example” in reducing emissions. He said he remained hopeful that the goal to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C would be reached, saying the US would “sprint” to get there by 2030 and then ensure the shift to a net zero economy was made by mid-century.

He said: “We are planning for both a short-term sprint to 2030 that will keep 1.5C in reach, and for a marathon that will take us to the finish line and transform the largest economy in the world into a thriving, innovative, equitable and just clean-energy engine for a net zero world.”

His remarks came as the US formally unveiled its long-term strategy to tackle the climate crisis, the so-called PREPARE initiative, that will plough more money than ever before into climate adaptation – $3bn a year by 2024.

However it was Indian prime minister Narendra Modi who was the newsmaker of the day, after he announced his country would aim to stop pumping emissions into the atmosphere by 2070 – a decade later than China, and 20 years after the US.

Mr Modi said the goal of reaching net zero in more than 50 years was one of five measures India planned to undertake to meet its Paris commitments. He also made a new 2030 pledge for half of India’s power to come from renewable energy by the end of the decade.

The leaders of smaller nations also delivered powerful messages at the summit, where one of the goals centred around achieving $100bn per year in climate finance to help developing countries adapt to extreme changes.

The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, warned leaders not to “allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction”.

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