Watch: David Attenborough Calls Out Polluters in COP26 Speech

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Nov. 2 2021, Published 11:16 a.m. ET

David Attenborough COP26 Speech
Source: Getty Images

Many climate activists are already rolling their eyes at the politicians making seemingly empty promises at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). But fortunately, prominent environmentalists are also gracing the delegates with empowering speeches that call out climate inaction — like Sir David Attenborough’s COP26 speech.

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David Attenborough’s COP26 speech puts polluters on blast.

In May, legendary broadcaster David Attenborough was crowned the COP26 People's Advocate. As part of his role, he gave a speech to a crowd of politicians, businesspeople, and environmentalists on Nov. 1, during the opening days of COP26, which is being held in Glasgow, Scotland.

Attenborough kicked off his speech by declaring that the climate emergency ultimately “comes down to a single number: the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere, the measure that greatly determines global temperature,” as the number 414 parts per million (ppm) displayed on the screens behind him. The entire point of COP26 is to maintain the goals of the Paris Agreement, and adhere to that 1.5-degree global temperature rise. A key way to do that is to reduce the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere — and 414 ppm is far too high.

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David Attenborough COP26 Speech
Source: Getty Images

“This story is one of inequality as well as instability,” Attenborough told the audience. “Today those who've done the least to cause this problem are being the hardest hit. Ultimately, all of us will feel the impacts, some of which are now unavoidable.”

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He then emphasized how the young people alive today will be the most affected by the climate crisis. He called out humanity — though those really responsible are major governments and major companies — for “failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short term goals,” and called for them to recapture billions of tons of carbon from the air, and for a new industrial revolution, this time focused on sustainable innovations.

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David Attenborough believes that no advanced nation is sustainable.

“As we work to build a better world, we must acknowledge no nation has completed its development, because no advanced nation is yet sustainable,” Attenborough declared in his speech. “We must use this opportunity to create a more equal world. And our motivation should not be fear, but hope,” he added, echoing another legendary British climate champion, Jane Goodall, who just published The Book of Hope, which is about combating the climate crisis with hope.

“It comes down to this. The people alive now, the generation to come, will look at this conference and consider one thing: Did that number stop rising and start to drop as a result of commitments made here?” he said.

“There's every reason to believe that the answer can be yes,” he continued, before declaring how, if powerful countries work together, we can save the planet.

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“In my lifetime, I've witnessed a terrible decline in yours,” he added, addressing those younger than him. “You could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellency is why the world is looking to you, and why you are here.”

And with those parting words, the room full of delegates applauded.

If the powerful political leaders and corporate executives attending COP26 do listen to Attenborough’s cries to reduce the atmospheric carbon concentration — which can only be done by regulating our most polluting industries, namely oil and gas — they could make a huge difference. Unfortunately, the conference thus far has mostly resulted in vague, far-off goals; for example, on Nov. 2, over 100 world leaders made a joint pledge to end deforestation by 2030, as reported by The New York Times. But why not pass laws now that would prevent deforestation?

As Attenborough suggested in his speech, it’s time to eschew short term goals and look at the bigger picture. We need to end the climate crisis, not just stall total destruction.

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