Sir David Attenborough optimistic US will return to Paris climate agreement

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Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough is optimistic that the US will not withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The BBC stalwart described President Donald Trump’s announcement last year as a “tragedy”, and said he believes that the American people will demand the US reneges on its decision.

The Paris agreement committed the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C.

Last year, President Trump said he wanted to negotiate a new “fair” deal that would not disadvantage US businesses and workers after making the promise during the presidential election.

Sir David, who was speaking at an event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, said: “That was such a tragedy.

“I was involved in putting in the Paris Agreement this idea that we had to use natural resources and renewable energy, and if we could only collaborate with the scientific world worldwide and work a path in which the various problems of our generation about storage and transmission could be dealt with, we could solve the problem within 10 years.

“We got agreement on that in Paris. It was a marvellous moment and felt like humanity was taking a step forward.

“To have one of the most important signatories then say they are going to withdraw was desperate really.

“I am optimistic enough to think that the Americans won’t withdraw as much as all that, and as time goes by the American people themselves demand that their government goes back on that and agrees to join the rest of the nations in trying to deal with huge problems that face us all.”

Sir David said he began campaigning to protect the environment when the subject was not seen as important as it is now.

“If you look back, I was producing programmes 25 years ago in which I was going on about population… for a long period of time, perhaps longer than people think,” he said.

“I was brought up as a public service broadcaster and the one thing about public service broadcasters is that they should keep their own views to themselves – and I felt that quite strongly.

“If you were going to give an opinion on something, you had better be sure that it is right. So I didn’t definitively say things I felt about conservation on air until about 25 years ago.

“In private, I am involved with a lot of conservation bodies. That’s my private life but I did not let that swamp what I was saying on television. That was taking advantage of a position of privelige.

“Eventually, there came a position where the evidence is so overwhelming and the consequences of ignoring it are so catastrophic that I had to take a position – and even though there were politicians and other people of good repute who disagreed with that, you had to say that the biological facts and scientific facts are so incontrovertible…”

During the event, in which he was in conversation with broadcaster Emma Fraud, Sir David was asked why he thought his Blue Planet programme had been so important in putting single use plastics on the political agenda.

“I asked the same question and I think the answer is that the natural world has an extraordinary fascination for us all,” he said.

“It has a quality in which every television producer who works in it is deeply grateful for, as there is a pre-disposition amongst the audience to look at natural history programmes.

“That has never been greater than it has been in the past year or so, because what is going on in the world around us is so deeply worrying.

“Every time you watch the news you are worried stiff by terrible things that are happening in the world, so you almost come to where you really can’t bare to know about it.

“But that does mean that I think people have gone to natural history programmes because they are beautiful, new, they are not trying to sell you anything, or give you a political philosophy – and above all they are true.

“In these times when we are as worried as we are about what is happening in the world, in America, Brexit and all these other things, natural history programmes are responsible and show the natural world as it is and have a lot to offer.”

Sir David was asked if there was one animal he could have a two-way conversation with, which would it be.

“I think it would be a species which lived in a different section of the earth’s environment,” he said.

“Either it would be a bird or else it would be something in the seas and I would probably pick a dolphin because they so versatile, they are social animals, they take care of their offspring, they have interesting social arrangements among the pod and they travel widely and encounter all sorts of things, they are extremely inquisitive.”

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