David Attenborough: Mass extinction is ‘on the horizon’

World leaders at COP24 told ‘the continuation of our civilisations is in your hands’

The collapse of civilisation and extinction of much of the natural world is "on the horizon" due to climate change, Sir David Attenborough declared at the opening day UN climate talks in Poland.

The naturalist and TV presenter called on global leaders and decision-makers, who have gathered in Katowice for the COP24 conference, to take charge on driving down greenhouse gas emissions as climate change was the greatest threat facing the world "in thousands of years".

“The world’s people have spoken, their message is clear, time is running out, they want you, the decision-makers, to act now. They’re supporting you in making tough decisions but they’re also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives,” he added.

“The continuation of our civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands.”


Sir David was speaking on behalf of the UN’s “People’s Seat” initiative to give ordinary people a voice at the international talks by gathering their thoughts, ideas and concerns through social media.

He endorsed the “ActNow.bot” which helps people discover simple everyday actions they can take to tackle climate change.

“The people have spoken: leaders of the world, you must lead, the continuation of our civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend are in your hands,” he added.

‘Life and death’

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned negotiators at the meeting that the world was in deep trouble. "Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later, before it's too late. For many people, regions and even countries, this is already a matter of life and death," he said.

Climate action was not just the right thing to do, it made social and economic sense, Mr Guterres said, pointing to how action to cut emissions would curb air pollution deaths, generate millions of jobs and trillions of dollars.

Mr Guterres said he had four simple messages:

Firstly, “science demands a significantly more ambitious response”. Secondly, “the Paris Agreement provides the framework for action, so we must operationalise it”. Thirdly, “we have a collective responsibility to invest in averting global climate chaos, to consolidate the financial commitments made in Paris and to assist the most vulnerable communities and nations”. Fourthly, “climate action offers a compelling path to transform our world for the better”.

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton, who attended the opening session, said: "The decisions we take now will define the next century. I recently received Government approval to develop an all of government plan to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change. Mr Guterres's comments underline what we are seeking to do and highlight the urgency of this work."

Ireland was fully committed to the implementation of the Paris agreement, he added. “Over the next two weeks, we will work with countries all over the world to put together a rule book to make sure we all fulfil our commitments. We also look forward to . . . getting an honest evaluation of our climate efforts to date. We need to be honest with where we are at so that we get to where we need to be,” Mr Bruton said.


The World Bank announced it is doubling investments in climate action with $200 billion for 2021-2025, including $50 billion towards helping countries adapt to the impacts of global warming.

Bank president Jim Yong Kim said the poorest and most vulnerable people were at the greatest risk, and urged other financial institutions to follow its lead.

“We are pushing ourselves to do more and go faster on climate and we call on the global community to do the same,” he said. “This is about putting countries and communities in charge of building a safer, more climate-resilient future.”

Following Brazil's recent withdrawal as host for COP25 next year, a spokeswoman for Mr Bruton said it would be relocated to a country in South America, as was required under UN rules. As to the possibility of Ireland hosting a COP, she said it was due to be staged in western Europe in 2020 but a conversation had yet to be had on where it would be staged. – Additional reporting: Guardian

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times