KATOWICE, Poland (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Older generations have “messed up the planet”, letting down younger people, who are “angry” about it and want it to stop, British naturalist David Attenborough said on Monday.
The 92-year-old, who has fronted wildly popular television series documenting nature and the environment, said on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Poland that betrayal of the young generation left him with a sense of “misery”.
“I have done my best to speak the truth as I see it, but (young people) ... know that the world is warming, and science is making it perfectly clear, and they know who is responsible - and that’s me and my predecessors, and going back even further than that,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Even though most world leaders have backed the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change, damage to coral reefs, glaciers and forests is still occurring, he added.
“This great machine is tumbling on, and we’ve got to stop it somehow,” he said on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks.
The talks, held on the site of a former mine in Poland’s main coal-producing region of Silesia, is tasked with hammering out rules to put the 2015 Paris climate accord into practice.
In the three years since governments adopted the Paris Agreement, the political will to fight climate change has faded, and countries are not delivering on their commitments, U.N. chief Antonio Guterres told reporters in the city of Katowice.
What is happening on the ground is “worse than predictions”, he said, with seas rising faster, ice melting more rapidly, and disasters becoming more dramatic with “terrible consequences”, as seen in hurricanes that hit the Caribbean last year.
Greta Thunberg, a Swedish 15-year-old who has inspired a global movement of children skipping school to call for action on climate change, met Guterres, telling him world leaders had ignored “countless people” standing up at U.N. climate summits for 25 years urging them to curb planet-warming emissions.
“I will not beg world leaders to care for our future,” she told reporters. “I will instead let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”
“Our political leaders have failed us,” she added.
Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive officer of the World Bank, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation conference delegates should keep pictures of their children and grandchildren in front of them when negotiating.
At the official opening ceremony of the talks on Monday, Attenborough presented a video combining clips uploaded to social media by people from all over the world in the past two weeks, using the Twitter hashtag #TakeYourSeat.
The video shows the effects people are suffering due to climate change, from worsening wildfires to storms and pollution.
“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 warned in the first “People’s Seat Address” at U.N. climate talks.
The aim was to ensure the views of ordinary people were heard at such a conference that can seem “remote” to many, the broadcaster said afterwards.
Alongside his speech, the United Nations launched Facebook Messenger software that will help people learn what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint, and share with their friends how they are making a difference.
The ActNow.bot uses artificial intelligence to engage with users and help answer their questions on climate change issues.
While many people take small actions to fight climate change, “they know perfectly well that in the end it has to go through governments, and governments need to hear”, Attenborough said.
Thunberg said young people should use all means at their disposal - whether social media, or direct protests such as school strikes - to raise awareness about the “mess” created by older people.
“We have to make our voices heard, and make them try to clean it up after them,” she said.
“We are all in this together, and together we are strong, and we will not give up,” she added in a message of solidarity with Australian students who also went on strike last week.
Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; additional reporting by Catherine Macdonald for Reuters TV; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate