COP21: Sir David Attenborough says solar can protect "happiness of humanity"


Among the great and the good that have descended upon Paris this week to lobby for change on climate action at COP21, few will have seen first-hand the impacts of climate change on the planet as starkly as British naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

The opinions of the famous BBC broadcaster, 89, were highly sought by various media outlets on the ground, with the BBC itself naturally securing the first interview with the revered naturalist.

Once in front of the camera, Attenborough wasted no time in stating which path the world should take in its continued fight against climate change.

"Developed nations should be able to solve many of the world’s emissions problems by devising better ways of gathering, storing and transmitting energy derived from the sun," Attenborough said. "And to do so at a price that will undercut the cost of energy obtained from oil and coal. These problems facing the planet can be solved easily, and if tackled correctly over the next 10 years then that would limit the problems of global warming to a very considerable degree."

Bloomberg also caught up with Attenborough in Paris, where he added the future happiness of humanity, and the survival of the natural world, is at stake – and solar holds the key to every living thing’s survival.

"Everybody on earth benefits from more and cheaper solar. Developed, less developed nations. Good intentions require practical actions, and working towards a strict timetable," Attenborough told Bloomberg.

Good COP, bad COP

The opening few days of COP21 have already delivered a series of encouraging jolts for solar’s status on the world stage. One of the chief headlines from day one was the launch of the International Solar Alliance, led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while yesterday a consortium of some of the world’s leading banks and businesses announced that they would be working together to "substantially increase" investments in clean energy.

French president Francois Hollande also revealed that his government will double its investment in solar, wind and hydropower in Africa to €2 billion between 2016 and 2020.

However, a report presented at COP21 today by Climate Action Tracker found that if all planned coal plants globally are built, then the world’s temperature will rise way above the two degrees Celsius benchmark set out by scientists as the "safe limit" for the world’s climate. According to the analysis, there are 2,440 coal-fired power plants being planned for construction around the world between now and 2030.

"If all of them were to built they would emit 6.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2030," said Niklas Hohne of the Climate Action Tracker research team. "If you add all of the power plants that are existing today and will still be operating in 2030, you come to 12 gigatonnes from coal-fired power in 2030, and that’s actually 400% higher than is necessary for 2 degrees."

The onus, therefore, lies with the governments of the world’s top emitters to phase out coal, rather than build more. The U.K. recently said that it would decommission all of its coal power plants by 2025, but according to the NewClimate Institute, seven of the nine top coal emitters globally will "threaten their INDCs [pledges made at COP21 to lower emissions]" if they press ahead with their coal plans.

"This would not only lead to higher emissions from coal but also undermine the country’s efforts and could lead, in a worst case scenario, to a displacement of renewable energy," said NewClimate Institute’s Markus Hagemann.