Broadcaster and conservationist Chris Packham has claimed that David Attenborough’s Cop 26 speech had no impact. The Planet Earth creator was lauded for his 2021 address at the Glasgow climate summit, in which he urged an audience including US President Joe Biden to commit to holding global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
However, Packham claims that politicians’ total failure to take the broadcaster’s words on board meant they had no impact.
“Attenborough stood up and gave a fantastic speech – the world listened. And by 9.30am the next morning, the world had forgotten,” says Packham in new Channel 4 documentary, Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law?
After a clip of Attenborough reminding world leaders that “the world is looking to you”, Packham claims that the lack of action caused him to lose all faith in elected representatives.
“The politicians that came and stood on that platform failed humanity wholesale and I watched them doing it in front of me,” says Packham. “Because by then the lobbyists were in their ears – fossil fuel lobbyists smuggled in by those countries who have a vested interest in the continuation of using fossil fuels. At the end of it, I was physically and mentally exhausted – and completely demoralised. I felt smashed, absolutely smashed.”
In Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law? the naturalist considers whether government failure over the climate crisis means that the only option is now to take illegal action. The timing of the documentary has proved extremely fortuitous given that it will air on the evening after Rishi Sunak performed a widely criticised U-turn on his government’s schedule for reaching net zero.
The documentary features old footage of Michael Gove giving a speech in parliament about global heating. During the speech, he claims the Conservative party recognises “that the situation we face is an emergency, it is a crisis – it is a threat that all of us have to unite to meet” before Packham goes on to point out that little has changed in its aftermath.
The activist drafts letters to Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman, asking for a meeting to discuss why the government is ignoring the advice of the statutory Climate Change Committee, established under the 2008 Climate Change Act. He spends time with Just Stop Oil activists, talks to Swedish ecologist Andreas Malm, who advocates sabotaging fossil-fuel infrastructure, and meets conservative peer Lord Deben, who chaired the government’s Climate Change Committee until recently.
“We looked at the 300 pages the government was forced to produce by the courts and we discovered that when you actually say what you’re going to do, it’s not going to reach the targets which you’ve set out. It hasn’t got a proper delivery plan,” says Deben.
“We really should be on a war footing, because this is going to act like war. If you look at what’s happening in southern Europe … all over the world … because of climate change. That’s just over 1.1 degrees’ increase and we are heading for something between two and three degrees’ increase. When you think of what that means, it is really appalling,” Deben adds.