British naturalist David Attenborough warned on Tuesday that climate change is the biggest security threat modern humans have ever faced, and told the UN Security Council: “I do not envy you the responsibility this places on all of you.”
Attenborough, 94, the world’s most influential wildlife broadcaster, spoke at a virtual meeting of the 15-member Council on climate-related risks to international peace and security, chaired by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us security: food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature and sea chains,” Attenborough said.
“And if the natural world can no longer support the most basic of our needs, much of the rest of civilization will be rapidly degraded,” he added.
With the world fighting to reduce global warming emissions fast enough to avoid catastrophic warming, the UN will hold a climate summit in November in Glasgow, Scotland.
“It’s literally our last, best hope to get on the right track and get it right,” US climate envoy John Kerry told the council.
The November summit serves as a deadline for the countries to commit to deeper emission reductions. It will be the most important gathering since the 2015 event that gave rise to the Paris Agreement, when almost 200 countries committed themselves to stopping rising temperatures fast enough to avoid catastrophic changes.
“I know there are people around the world who will say that these are all kinds of green things from a bunch of tree-hugging tofu munchers and are not suitable for international diplomacy and international politics,” Johnson told the council. “I could not agree more deeply.”
‘Long way to go’
Russia and China question whether the Security Council is the right forum to discuss climate change.
“We agree that climate change and environmental issues can exacerbate conflicts. But are they really the root cause of these conflicts? There are serious doubts about this,” said Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.
China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua described climate change as a development issue. “Sustainable development is the key to solving all problems and eliminating the root causes of conflict,” he said.
Kerry said: “We are burying our heads in the sand at our own risk. It is time to start treating the climate crisis as the urgent security threat. It is literally the challenge for all our generations.”
The Paris Agreement aims to limit the temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and as close to 1.5 ° C as possible to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pressured countries, companies, cities and financial institutions to make ambitious commitments to reduce global emissions. China and the United States are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
“We still have a long way to go, and we look to the big emitters to lead by example in the coming months,” Guterres told the council. “This is a test of credibility for their commitment to humans and the planet. It is the only way we will keep the 1.5 degree target within reach.”