David Attenborough: Humanity's Collapse Looming Amid Climate Change Failure

Veteran naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough warned that climate change will cause civilizational collapse if world leaders fail to set the international community on a low-emission path.

The 92-year-old was chosen to represent the people of the world and address delegates at the United Nations climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, The Guardian reported.

The two-week conference assembled representatives from more than 200 nations to discuss the progress—or lack thereof—on pledges made as part of the 2015 Paris climate deal.

"Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change," Attenborough told the audience. "If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon."

Attenborough's address drew on messages from people all over the world, conveying a sense of frustration over apparent global inertia toward the looming disaster of climate change.

The vast majority of the scientific community agrees that climate change is happening, though notable holdouts—including President Donald Trump—have frustrated global efforts to address the crisis and squandered precious time and resources that could have been used to limit carbon emissions.

Abnormally high temperatures are becoming common, and subsequent extreme weather events more regular. The 20 warmest years on record have all occurred within the last 22 years, and the top four in the past four years, The Guardian noted.

Sir David Attenborough says that we’re facing a man-made disaster on a global scale. https://t.co/mnv5BLTo72 Via @ReutersTV #COP24 pic.twitter.com/pz3Pxz9Q1e

— Reuters (@Reuters) December 3, 2018

The UN said the extent of climate action must be increased fivefold to limit global warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius urged by scientists. Beyond this, humanity will face far higher risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty. Current levels of global emissions are on course to spur between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius of warming, the UN warned.

Delegates were played a montage of messages collected from people around the world. One young man asked the camera, "Do you not see what is going on around you?" A young woman in China said she was already living with the impacts of climate change, while another woman standing in front of a building destroyed by a wildfire said, "This used to be my home."

As the video ended, Attenborough took up their cry. "The world's people have spoken," he said. "Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilizations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands."

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also addressed the summit, the BBC reported. "Climate change is running faster than we are, and we must catch up sooner rather than later before it is too late," he warned. "For many people, regions and even countries, this is already a matter of life or death."

Guterres called on representatives to cement funding agreements, allowing the international community to take firm steps towards green solutions, suggesting the world was "nowhere near where it needs to be" on moving to a low-carbon economy.

"We have a collective responsibility to invest in averting global climate chaos," he said. "Climate action offers a compelling path to transform our world for the better. Governments and investors need to bet on the green economy, not the gray."

But Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, undermined those messages with a defense of the coal industry. He claimed that using "efficient" coal technology did not necessarily run counter to climate action. Poland is heavily dependent on coal, which accounts for some 80 percent of all the nation's energy, the Associated Press noted.

The conference was also being sponsored by Polish state-owned coal company JWS, an agreement that Friends of the Earth International called a "middle finger to the climate."