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Sir David Attenborough opens COP24 with stark warning

Sir David Attenborough delivered a stern speech on the opening day of the UN’s climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, warning of the impending threats global warming poses to the natural world.

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” he said in his keynote address.

“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change.”

The naturalist is taking up the People’s Seat at the conference, called COP24. He is supposed to act as a link between the public and policy-makers at the meeting.

“The world’s people have spoken,” he added. “Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now,” he said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said climate change was “running away from us” and that “we cannot afford to fail here in Katowice.” Mr Guterres said the political will to fight climate change had faded since the Paris accord three years ago, and agreement which saw countries across the globe agree to step up efforts to fight the problem.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, who is hosting the conference, used his opening address to defend Poland’s reliance on coal.

“Using your own natural resources, which in Poland’s case is coal, and basing energy security on these resources does not contradict protection of the climate. Poland is a good example of a country following the path of sustainable development.”

Poland still generates around 90 per cent of its electricity from coal. According to the World Health Organisation, the country is home to 33 of Europe’s 50 most polluted towns and cities. On November 19, Krzysztof Tchórzewski, Poland’s minister of energy, issued a statement in defence of coal, claiming that reducing Poland’s dependency on coal will damage the economy.

Over the past decade, Katowice itself – capital of Poland’s Silesia region – has been slowly transforming itself from a coal and steel city into a booming centre of business and culture. Revitalisation of the post-industrial area of the city into the so-called Culture Zone – where COP24 is being held – has seen more than 250 million euros of investment, with the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund providing more than 50 per cent of the amount.

While the Silesia region has been habitually associated with high smog levels – which has seen its selection as the location for COP24 criticised by some –  one of the aims of the organisers is to alter this image and present Katowice as a model for a smart, green transformation.

COP24 is the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also referred to as UNFCCC, established in 1992 and ratified by 196 countries plus the European Union. The conference runs until December 14.