Boris Johnson and Sir David Attenborough push climate change at UN’s top table

Britain's prime minister and the wildlife show host say global warming is driving conflicts

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough speaks during the launch of the UK-hosted COP26 UN Climate Summit, which is being held this autumn in Glasgow, at the Science Museum on February 4, 2020 in London, England. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will reiterate the government's commitment to net zero by 2050 target and call for international action to achieve global net zero emissions. The PM is also expected to announce plans to bring forward the current target date for ending new petrol and diesel vehicle sales in the UK from 2040 to 2035, including hybrid vehicles for the first time. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the award-winning broadcaster Sir David Attenborough will on Tuesday urge UN members to treat climate change as a threat to international peace and security.

The two notable Britons will push UN Security Council (UNSC) members to cut carbon dioxide emissions down to zero by 2050 to prevent droughts, wildfires and other crises from driving conflicts in Africa and beyond.

The meeting comes as Britain seeks to maintain its global profile after Brexit and amid hopes that America’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement on climate change last week will speed efforts to switch out coal and oil for cleaner fuels.

“The UNSC is tasked with confronting the gravest threats to global peace and security, and that’s exactly what climate change represents,” Mr Johnson said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

“From the communities uprooted by extreme weather and hunger, to warlords capitalising on the scramble for resources — a warming planet is driving insecurity.”

Sir David, the British presenter of The Blue Planet and other hit wildlife shows, has recorded a video statement for the 15-nation body, which typically deals with wars and political crises rather than global warming.

"If we objectively view climate change and the loss of nature as world-wide security threats — as indeed, they are — then we may yet act proportionately and in time," Mr Attenborough said in a statement sent to The National.

“If we bring emissions down with sufficient vigour we may yet avoid the tipping points that will make runaway climate change unstoppable.”

Mr Johnson’s appearance will be the first time a British prime minister has wielded the gavel at UN Security Council talks in nearly three decades, and the first time leaders have debated climate change at the UN’s top table.

The UK will in November host the Paris agreement’s review conference in Glasgow, known as COP26, to ensure governments are reducing carbon pollution fast enough to stave off the worst effects of global warming.

Mr Attenborough said talks in Scotland may be “our last opportunity to make the necessary step-change”.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, most world governments have pledged to keep global warming to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial times and to strive to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C.

The planet has so far warmed by 1.2°C and is headed for at least 3°C this century — raising the risk of wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather that can drive conflicts over scarce natural resources.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, climate change likely does not cause wars, but can exacerbate droughts, desertification, water shortages and other underlying problems that make conflict more likely.

The group says that countries facing stark environmental problems are often also beset by conflict. Examples include Yemen, Mali, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

The meeting comes after America’s reentry last week into the Paris agreement, after US President Joe Biden reversed a 2017 decision by his predecessor, Donald Trump, to exit the pact, calling climate an economy-draining “hoax”.

It also comes amid the latest example of headline-making weather — a winter storm across the southern US that brought deadly freezing winds, snow and ice to areas that seldom see such frigid conditions.

Mr Biden has pledged to put the US on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050 to match the swift and steep global cuts that climatologists say are needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, using curbs on fossil fuels and investments in clean energy.

Countries producing two-thirds of global carbon emissions are now pursuing the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, the UN says. China, the world’s biggest polluter, aims to be carbon neutral by 2060.

Powerful UN members Russia and China have typically sought to curtail Security Council debate on climate change, but this may change as the environment is increasingly a priority for Beijing.

Mr Johnson noted that the UN council has struggled to solve long-running rows, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that tackling climate change was “one we know exactly how to address”.

“By helping vulnerable countries adapt to climate change and cutting global emissions to net zero, we will protect not only the bountiful biodiversity of our planet, but its prosperity and security,” he said.