• English

Stories from the UN Archive: BBC legend and UN Earth Champion

“We must feel that we are all citizens of this one planet because unless we do, we won’t solve the problems,” Mr. Attenborough said in an interview with the UN.

Over the course of his more than 70-year-long career at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the legendary natural history broadcaster, who turned 98 last month, managed to bring the farthest reaches of planet Earth into the homes and hearts of millions, from Zoo Quest in the 1950s to his Planet Earth trilogy in the 2020s.

Delivering an electrifying speech at the opening of the World Leaders Summit on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow in 2021, Sir David addressed Heads of State against the backdrop of stunning, cinematic pictures splashed on giant screens behind him. These were produced by Silverback Films, the production company that has collaborated with him on many of his most celebrated natural history documentaries.

Watch his full speech below:

He had a strong message for the COP26 summit on the state of the environment.

“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline,” he said. “In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies. It’s why the world is looking to you and why you are here.”

Much of his work has focused on the wonders of the natural world and how to protect them. His in-depth stories reflect an ever-changing Earth, from restoring biodiversity and preserving natural landscapes to mitigating climate change and understanding the impact of human activities on the environment.

Watch his journey from zoologist to climate activist:

In 2022, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) presented Sir David with the Champions of the Earth Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his advocacy within the global environmental movement.

“If we stand a chance of averting climate and biodiversity breakdowns and cleaning up polluted ecosystems, it’s because millions of us fell in love with the planet that he showed us on television,” UNEP Executive Director Ingrid Anderson said that the time.

‘If we can act together, we can solve these problems’

Upon receiving the award, Mr. Attenborough recalled that 50 years ago, whales were on the very edge of extinction worldwide.

“Then people got together, and now there are more whales in the sea than any living human being has ever seen,” he said. “If we act together, we can solve these problems.”

The script was then flipped, when Sir David the interviewer became the interviewee as he took questions from the UNEP chief, Ms. Anderson.

Watch part of that epic exchange in UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive episode on the Champion of the Earth here.

A portrait of UNEP Champion Sir David Attenborough.
UNEP/Lulu Kitololo

A portrait of UNEP Champion Sir David Attenborough.

Sibling rivalry?

The Champion of the Earth is not the first Attenborough at the UN.

In 1987, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appointed his older brother. Richard, as a Goodwill Ambassador.

Film producer and director Richard Attenborough was introduced as the new Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on 28 October 1987. (file)
UN Photo/Milton Grant

Film producer and director Richard Attenborough was introduced as the new Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 28 October 1987. (file)

Lord Richard Attenborough (1923-2014) was an actor, film producer and director.

He built a familiarity with UNICEF programmes and staff during the filming of Gandhi in India, during which special fundraising premiers helped raise over $1 million for the agency.

In 1994, he undertook an extensive mission to Africa, campaigning for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2000, just after Mozambique had been devastated by floods, he visited the country to launch a joint appeal by UNICEF and the United Kingdom’s Observer newspaper.

UN News’s #ThrowbackThursday series showcases epic moments across UN history, curated from the UN Audiovisual Library’s 49,400 hours of video and 18,000 hours of audio recordings plus hundreds of thousands of photos and documents carefully managed by the UN’s archivists since 1945.

Catch up on UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive playlist here and our accompanying series here.

Join us next Thursday for another dive into history.

Get help now

Send a message with a description of your problem and possible ways of assistance and we will contact you as soon as we consider your problem.

    [recaptcha class:captcha]