Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Beloved environmentalist Sir David Attenborough lauded for work to protect world's oceans

The BBC has been given an award after Blue Planet II helped spark government action

Sir David Attenborough spoke warmly of teenage activist Greta Thunberg. EPA
Sir David Attenborough spoke warmly of teenage activist Greta Thunberg. EPA

Broadcaster and wildlife expert Sir David Attenborough, along with the BBC studios, is to be given the Chatham House Prize 2019 for ocean advocacy and the “galvanising impact” of the Blue Planet II series.

The BBC show has helped spur a surge in environmental activism and awareness, in particular the damage that discarded plastic has on marine life.

The Chatham House award is given to people or organisations deemed to have made the most significant contribution to improving international relations in the last year.

Sir David told The Times. “The funny thing is I have been talking about plastic pollution in the sea for years. Nobody took the slightest bit of notice and suddenly they do. Why?”

He also questioned why climate change was not the most important issue in the upcoming UK general election and said the world was not doing enough to recycle.

“To see the Albatross circling Antarctica, picking up little fragments of what they think is squid, and coming all the way back to this chick and opening the bill and what comes out is nutritional rubbish: that’s a very powerful image.”

The beloved wildlife expert, 93, said the world is still “only scratching the surface” on plastic waste but added it was important people kept up the momentum.

“Think of the millions of tonnes of stuff that we’re putting in the oceans. How do you deal with these acres of plastic rubbish floating on the surface of the sea? Awful. Really awful,” he said.

"And, of course, it goes everywhere because it’s indestructible. When it’s killed a fish it’s still lying around, ready to kill something else.

“We do our best and increase our efforts to do something about it. Changing the habits of multiple stores across the country is not a negligible achievement,” he added.

Chatham House director Robert Niblett said Blue Planet II had spurred a clear policy change and “passionate” response worldwide.

In June, environment ministers of the G20 agreed a call to action that would tackle marine plastic litter.

Sir David said it was hard to pretend that President Donald Trump’s decision to begin pulling the US out of the Paris accord on climate change was not a blow, but added there was still time to reverse the decision.

He criticised Mr Trump’s derision of teenage activist Greta Thunberg and said “she’s stirred the world”.

Sir David also voiced his support for the role played by schools. Although he stopped short of fully supporting students striking to go on climate marches, he said it encouraged politicians to do more knowing how strongly young people felt.

“Primary school teachers have got hold of this and they have instructed their classes. I get 30 letters a day, of which a high proportion are from children. They’ve learnt about it at school. So thank you, primary school teachers, for what they’re doing,” he said.

“I think it’s very important that people should have a way of expressing their opinion. It’s a valuable thing to do. I think at the same time it’s not as creative as it might be. It doesn’t actually make anything grow more. It doesn’t actually in itself stop the programme of climate change."

Updated: November 20, 2019 11:11 AM

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