Sir David Attenborough says the “collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon” unless urgent action is taken against global warming.
The 92-year-old famed British naturalist and BBC presenter blamed humans for the, “man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years”.
“The world’s people have spoken, their message is clear: time is running out,” he said.
“They want you, the decision makers, to act now.”
The comments were made in Katowice, Poland, the city hosting the UN’s COP24 climate talks — a multilateral meeting drawing together about 200 countries to set the rulebook for the 2015 Paris climate accords.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres issued a dramatic appeal to world leaders to take the threat of global warming seriously and to act boldly to avert a catastrophic rise in temperatures before the end of the century.
Mr Guterres, who spoke at the opening of the conference, called climate change, “the most important issue we face”.
“Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption,” Mr Guterres said.
The UN chief critiqued countries, particularly those most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, for not doing enough to back the 2015 Paris climate accord, which set a goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Citing a recent scientific report on the dire consequences of letting average global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees, Mr Guterres urged countries to cut their emissions 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and aim for net zero emissions by 2050.
Net zero emissions mean any greenhouse gases emitted need to be soaked up by forest or new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Global consensus demands end to fossil fuels
Such cuts, which experts say are the only way to achieve the 1.5-degree goal, would require a radical overhaul of the global economy and a move away from using fossil fuels.
“In short, we need a complete transformation of our global energy economy, as well as how we manage land and forest resources,” Mr Guterres said.
He said governments should embrace the opportunities rather than cling to fossil fuels such as coal, which are blamed for a significant share of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
The remark was directed at host Poland, which relies on coal for 80 per cent of its energy.
But Polish President Andrzej Duda later told a news conference the coal-rich country would reduce its reliance on coal but would never entirely give up its “strategic fossil fuel”.
The UN chief also urged negotiators not to forget the challenges they face pale in comparison to the difficulties climate change is already causing millions around the world, whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by rising sea levels, drought and more powerful storms.
Guterres: ‘Political will has faded’ for Paris
The two-week conference in Poland’s southern coal-mining region of Silesia is expected to work out how governments can report on their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming within the limits of the Paris climate deal.
“This is the challenge on which this generation’s leaders will be judged,” Mr Guterres said.
He later told reporters realities of global climate changes were, “worse than expected, but the political will is relatively faded after Paris” and was not matching the current challenges.
Mr Guterres called for a “huge increase in ambitions” during the negotiations in Poland, adding, “We cannot afford to fail in Katowice”.
‘America is more than one leader’
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action film star and former governor of California, said the United States was “still in” the Paris accord to curb global warming despite President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from it.
Schwarzenegger said he wished he could travel back in time, like the cyborg he played in his film The Terminator, so he could stop fossil fuels from being used.
“If we would’ve never started in that direction and used other technology, we’d be much better off,” he told conference delegates.
He also told delegates, “America is more than just Washington or one leader”.
Calling Mr Trump “meshugge” — Yiddish for “crazy” — for deciding to withdraw from the Paris accord, Schwarzenegger insisted the climate deal had widespread support at local and state levels in the US.
The Polish leader said participants at the conference backed his country’s proposal of a “just transition” away from coal mining, which called for helping people like coal miners who were slated to lose their jobs as the world changed its energy mix.
Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, who presided over last year’s UN climate summit, said the “just transition” proposal should not just consider the fate of fossil-fuel workers but all people around the world whose lives were affected by climate change.
Residents of the world’s smaller islands, many of whom face catastrophic flooding from higher sea levels in a warming world, have been among the world’s most vocal backers of measures to combat climate change.
In a recent interview with the ABC, Tuvaluan Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said Australia’s inaction on climate change was “undermining” its pivot back to the Pacific.