UN Declares David Attenborough a ‘Champion of the Earth’

David Attenborough speaks at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow
David Attenborough speaks at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021. Yves Herman / Getty Images

Sir David Attenborough is a beloved broadcaster who has spent more than half a century bringing the wonders of the natural world into the homes and hearts of viewers.

To celebrate his 70-year career, the UN Environment Programme awarded the 95-year-old with its Champions of the Earth Lifetime Achievement Award, the UN’s highest environmental honor. 

“Sir David Attenborough has devoted his life to documenting the love story between humans and nature, and broadcasting it to the world. 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 Inger Andersen said in a press release. “Sir David’s work will continue to inspire people of all ages to care for nature and to become the restoration generation.”

Attenborough made his television debut on December 21, 1954, in BBC’s Zoo Quest, the UN said. He went on to present several influential documentary series for the network. 1979’s Life on Earth tracked the natural history of the planet and was viewed by around 500 million people. More recently, his Blue Planet II shined a light on the problem of ocean plastic pollution. 

He has also spoken up for the environment off the air, appearing at important summits like the 2015 climate change conference that led to the Paris agreement. In the last four years, he has become particularly outspoken about the climate crisis and the need to combat it, BBC News noted. 

Attenborough remains optimistic that human beings can act in time to prevent the worst impacts of their activity. 

“The world has to get together. These problems cannot be solved by one nation – no matter how big that single nation is. We know what the problems are and we know how to solve them. All we lack is unified action,” Attenborough said on receiving the award, as the UN press release reported. “Fifty 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. If we act together, we can solve these problems.”

Attenborough’s commitment to the planet has won him the admiration of the younger generation as well.

Thirteen-year-old Benjamin told BBC News that Attenborough had inspired him to pursue a career as a marine biologist. 

“I want to be able to have a family and I want them to live a nice world. But if we start trying very hard, we can save the natural world,” he said. 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter