The body of this transcript consists of David Attenborough's narration from Extinction: The Facts. Everything behind bullet points comes from the experts who appeared in the programme.
Our planet is home to a seemingly infinite variety of species. From ocean giants to the tiniest insects. We call this abundance of life biodiversity. But today, it's vanishing at rates never seen before in human history.
- News report - "The UN panel of experts has found that one million animal and plant species face extinction".
- It is worse than expected. This is happening much faster than we've ever seen before.
- Today, we are the asteroid that's causing many, many species to go extinct simultaneously.
The evidence is that unless immediate action is taken, this crisis has grave impacts for us all.
- We're not just losing nice things to look at. We're losing critical parts of Earth's system.
- And it's threatening our food, our water, our climate.
- This year has shown us we've gone one step too far.
Scientists have even linked our destructive relationship with nature to the emergence of Covid-19.
- We are encroaching further and further every day into wildlife habitat, and that drives emerging diseases.
- If we carry on like this, we will see more epidemics as bad as this, and some of them could even be worse.
The decisions made as we rebuild our economies are critical.
- Get it wrong and we will be in deeply dangerous territory.
- Get it right and we still have the ability to pull back and rein in the collapse of biodiversity.
- We have a moment when we can change our world and make it better. This is that moment.
Over the course of my life, I've encountered some of the world's most remarkable species of animals. Only now do I realise just how lucky I've been. Many of these wonders seem set to disappear forever. We're facing a crisis, and one that has consequences for us all. It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to control our climate. It even puts us at greater risk of pandemic diseases such as Covid-19. It's never been more important for us to understand the effects of biodiversity loss, of how it is that we ourselves are responsible for it. Only if we do that will we have any hope of averting disaster.
Last year, the United Nations asked over 500 scientists to investigate the current state of the natural world.
- This is the first time there's been a global assessment where all the evidence has been pulled together, thousands and thousands of papers.
- We're losing biodiversity at a rate that is truly unprecedented in human history.
- All groups in the natural world are in decline, which means their populations are getting smaller, day by day.
- Since 1970, vertebrate animals - things like birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles - have declined by 60% in total. Large mammals have on average disappeared from three quarters of the range where they were historically found.
- What's different is that it's happening simultaneously in the Amazon, in Africa, in the Arctic. It's happening not at one place and not with one group of organisms, but with all biodiversity everywhere on the planet.
- It means that one million species out of eight million species on Earth are now threatened with extinction. 500,000 plants and animals and 500,000 insects.
- Extinction is a natural process. Things come, they grow, their populations get huge and then they decline. But it's the rate of extinction. That's the problem. So when you look at previous groups in the fossil records, then it's over millions of years they go extinct. Here we're looking at tens of years.
Since 1500, 570 plant species and 700 animal species have gone extinct. Studies suggest that extinction is now happening 100 times faster than the natural evolutionary rate, and it's accelerating.
- Globally, there was a shock. Because you hadn't pulled all that data together, people hadn't realised that we have a very serious crisis on our hands.
- Many people think of extinction being this imaginary tale told by conservationists, but I have lived it. I know what it is. I am caretaker of the northern white rhinos. We only have two left on the planet. They are mother and daughter. This is Najin, the mother, who is 30 years old. She is very quiet. And her daughter is Fatu. This is Fatu. Hey, come on. Hey, Fatu. Fatu, no, come on. She's 19 years old. She's pretty much like a human teenager. She's a little bit unpredictable and can be feisty sometimes, especially when she wants something.
Northern white rhinos were once found in their thousands in central Africa, but were pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat loss and hunting. By 1990, just seven known individuals survived.
- I've seen these beautiful rhinos count from seven down to two. They're here because we've betrayed them. And I think they feel it, this threatening tide of extinction that is pushing on them. They feel their world is collapsing. Unless science saves them, when Najin passes away, she'll leave the daughter Fatu alone forever. The last northern white rhino. And their plight awaits one million more species.
- Once we lose these species, we do not have hope of accumulating them back on a timescale that we exist on.
Unique animals with complex and varied lives disappearing from our planet forever isn't just disturbing. It's deeply tragic. But this is about more than losing the wonders of nature. The consequences of these losses for us as a species are far-reaching and profound.
- What we now know about the natural world is that everything is joined up. From a single pond to a whole tropical rainforest. All of biodiversity is interlocked on a global scale and all parts of that system are required to make it function. We tend to think that we're somehow outside of that system, but we are part of it and we are totally reliant upon it.
- The problem is we're now changing those ecological systems on a massive scale, right across the globe. And it's threatening food and water security. We're losing many of the things that nature provides us. One of the big threats is the loss of insects. We've estimated 10% are at risk of extinction. Other scientists believe the number could be much larger.
- Driving around, we don't have moths, butterflies, bees, all sorts of insects on our windshield any more. And that is scary. Because they form the food chain for hundreds of thousands of other species. And they are extremely important for pollination.
Three quarters of the world's food crops rely partly on pollination by insects to produce the food that we need.
- Another threat is the loss of diversity below ground. Soil should be teeming with life. But reports have suggested that up to 30% of the land's surface globally has been degraded and has soils of low biodiversity. One of the most important things that animals in the soil do is break down organic matter which can then be used for plant growth. So if we lose the diversity of the soil, the consequences of that can be catastrophic.
- We're seeing already that due to soil degradation and changes in the Earth's climate, food production in some parts of the world is going down. Unfortunately, the most affected would be poor people in developing countries. But there's no question everybody in the world, one way or another, is being affected by the loss of biodiversity.
- One of the really big problems is what's happening to plants. The picture is grim. 25% of the plant species that have been assessed are threatened with extinction. One in four plants. I find that terrifying. Plants underpin almost every single thing that we require. Think about the air we breathe, concentration of CO2 in the air, clean water. Trees regulate water flow across landscapes. Intercept the rainfall and the roots hold the soil in place. So you chop all those trees down, there's nothing doing that, you end up with a landslide. We've learnt that many, many times, and yet we carry on making the same mistake.
- Even in the UK, we've converted many areas that have been natural wetlands, which would absorb the water. What we're now seeing is major floods.
The impacts of biodiversity loss are no longer a threat for future generations to face. We ourselves must do so. It's never been more critical for us to understand what is driving this crisis. Scientists have identified the key ways in which we humans are destroying the ecosystems on which we depend.
- There are many ways to remove pieces of the puzzle. The most obvious way is to kill something, and we do a lot of that.
Over the last 20 years, the illegal wildlife trade has become a multi-billion dollar global industry.
- News reports - "One of the biggest ever hauls, worth more than #4 million"... "326 pieces were seized"... "was found in a shipping container"...
- Poaching is still sort of like a war, a constant battle that we have to fight. Every day, we lose between two or three rhinos in Africa. And it is not just rhinos.
- We're talking about millions of animals being snatched from the wild, from thousands of species.
- Illegal wildlife trafficking ranks fourth of transnational crimes after human trafficking, arms and drugs.
- One of the drivers for increasing demand is increased income in China, Vietnam or elsewhere. If you have money, if you have internet, you can literally order anything that you want. It could be a status symbol or it could be for medicinal purposes. But it's all made up. People claim these are cultures and traditions, but a lot is really just a marketing scheme by traders looking for the next animal to exploit.
- The massive demand in Asia for pangolin scales is driving the decimation of pangolins.
- Traders claim that they have medicinal purposes, but, you know, pangolin scales are made of keratin. It's like our fingernails. So they have no medicinal properties.
- The numbers of African pangolin scales that have been intercepted going into Asia has dramatically increased over the last few years. Last year, 2019, it was just over 100 tonnes of scales. That's 175,000 pangolins that have been killed for the scale trade. We work closely with law enforcement officials. This little pangolin came in off the trade, and they're usually dehydrated and emaciated. This pangolin's still got the little white tips at the end of each scale which shows his use. And this is a particularly pretty little pangolin. Poaching is a brutally cruel business. I have seen video footage of them being boiled alive. It's extremely distressing to see how these animals are killed.
- Last year, when Covid-19 first emerged, pangolins were pointed to as a potential source of the virus. And everybody hoped that this would cut down the trade straight away, but unfortunately, that's not happened. The trade is highly profitable and it's unlikely to stop.
- There are four Asian pangolin species and four African. And all eight species are threatened with extinction.
There is another huge trade that is driving the loss of biodiversity, and this one happens in plain sight.
- We have created a database that has world fisheries statistics, and we were the first ones to study fisheries on a global basis, and this global view shows that we have massive and widespread overfishing.
In the last 40 years, the scale of global fishing has dramatically increased. At any one time, there could be as many as 100,000 trawlers operating in our seas.
- Modern fishing is an industrial operation run by huge corporations, boats, factories, ships. Some sweep up the ground with a net that might be as big as this house. And you can put four jumbo jets in the mouth of a big trawl. And everything that is in the path goes in.
- The problem is, as you remove more and more of the adult fish, particularly the larger sized fish, you end up with fewer and fewer of the eggs and the fry, and there's simply not enough for the population to recover. There are ways of sustainably managing fish stocks. Reducing fishing in an area can get a population back to sustainable levels.
- But you have to choose whether you want to extract a sustainable, modest catch or have a big catch for a short term. And we have always opted for the big catch for a short term.
- Even where fish quotas are put in place, often they're not being implemented. And in some parts of the world, there's not even good regulations to limit the catches.
- The waters around the edge of fishing countries are being emptied. We found that in China, we have about 16% left of what we had 120 years ago. And studies suggest that some British waters, where industrial fishing begun, have been decimated. There is now about 5% of trawler cod fish left before the turn of the 20th century.
- This is a really big problem for the species of fish that prey upon the fish that we're harvesting, and this has huge impact for marine ecosystems.
- We have completely destroyed the natural balance of fish in the world's oceans.
Across the globe, the pressures faced by the natural world are becoming ever harder to solve because of our growing demand for nature's resources.
- When I was a kid in the 1960s, there were three billion people in the world. So I watched it go to six billion around 2000 or so, and I'm now probably going to see it actually reach, you know, nine billion in my lifetime, which is pretty startling.
- Population growth is much, much higher in the developing world than in the developed.
- But it's problematic to just talk about population because there are two things which are going on. It's population, but it's also consumption.
- And in terms of impact on the planet, what's much more important is the growth in consumption levels, and these are far higher in the developed economies.
- That's why I call it a taboo topic, because who's at fault? Is it the very large number of people, or the small number of people with very few children who are actually driving negative impacts?
The average person in the UK consumes nearly four times the resources of the average person in India, and in the United States it's about seven times as much. One of the problems is that many of the products we use are manufactured in ways that pollute our air, land and water, making pollution another of the drivers of biodiversity loss.
- While in a country like the United Kingdom, where some very strong laws on how to reduce pollution, we do have to realise we're no longer a major industrial country. Most of the things that we actually use are produced abroad in countries where the laws can be non-existent or not implemented. So we are simply moving our footprint on destroying nature to another country.
Pollutants can have a lasting impact on species - an impact that may take time for us to fully understand.
- PCB stand for polychlorinated biphenyls. They're used in the electrical industry. We invented them in the '20s and then we began to ban them from the '80s onwards because we realised they had quite a serious and toxic effect on life. They affect the immune system and they also cause reproductive impairment. If PCBs are not disposed of appropriately, then you can get leaching out from the landfill site, into river courses, river beds and back out to sea. Animals at the base of the food chain might absorb very small amounts. But then as animals above them eat more and more of the small animals, they'll concentrate up the food chain. In the UK, we have one really striking example of that. The last remaining pod of in-shore killer whales up in north-west Scotland, where they only have eight individuals left. That population has been studied for about 30 years. In all that time, they've never had a calf. Lulu was a part of that pod. She died due to entanglement in fishing gear. When we had her blubber levels analysed for PCBs, they were quite shocking. One of the highest levels ever recorded in any killer whale on the planet. And when we looked at her ovaries, we found they were non-functional. In my lifetime, we're looking potentially at the complete loss of that population. And then we'll have no more killer whales left around the coast of the UK.
In addition to these threats, many ecosystems are increasingly feeling the impact of another driver of biodiversity loss. Climate change. Our world is getting hotter.
- At this moment, we do have the Paris Agreement that says all governments should try and limit climate change to no more than two degrees Celsius. All of the calculations show we're on track for a three to four degree world. And the more the Earth warms, the worse the problem is.
- There are lots of ways that climate change will impact on species - changing food sources, how they breed and whole patterns of migration and movement.
Increasing temperatures mean some species are unable to survive in their normal habitat. They're forced to move higher and higher where it's cooler, and eventually there's nowhere left to go.
- It's been called the escalator to extinction, and we see it all around the globe.
- In the Australian Wet Tropics, we're already seeing that with possums and birds that just can't handle the heatwaves. About 50% of the endemic species that live in these mountaintops are on that escalator to extinction. These are no longer predictions. We are seeing it happen.
Scientists predict that in the future, as temperatures continue to rise, climate change will become the greatest threat faced by species. But right now, the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss is the destruction of habitats.
- Many people imagine there's this untouched wilderness because they see it on their TV screens. But the reality is there's really not a lot of wild left out there.
- We've already lost nearly 90% of the wetlands around the world. We've transformed the forests and grasslands, we've converted 75% of the land that is not covered by ice.
- Three quarters of the terrestrial surface has been changed, a lot of it just to feed one species.
- Obviously, if you clear a rainforest or natural savanna and you replace it with a monoculture agriculture, of course it's unsurprising you're going to lose most of the species that evolved to survive there. The critical thing is that there is now enough land that's already been cleared to sustain the levels of production that we need. But new land is still being cleared because often it's quicker and cheaper to do so.
It's estimated that every year around 3.8 million hectares of forest are cleared.
- A lot of that clearance is driven by demand on the other side of the world. We want cheap food and we want to have choice on offer all year round.
These commodities often provide the mainstay of countries' economies, but many are produced in ways that are not sustainable.
- So a consumer walking into a supermarket may unwittingly be contributing towards loss of biodiversity. What we're doing is taking customs data, shipping data, and for the first time we connect them all together and ask who is buying from the hot spots where we're really losing biodiversity. We now have enough data to be able to identify the main drivers of biodiversity loss. Soy, cocoa, coffee, palm oil and beef.
Conversion of land for cattle is probably the greatest single cause of habitat loss. Of the total mass of mammals on Earth, livestock has been found to account for 60%, humans for 36%, and wild animals just 4%.
- Brazil has one of the world's largest cattle herds, more than 200 million animals. About 12% of Brazil's beef exports comes to the EU, but China is the main buyer.
The UK doesn't import much beef, but we do import another product from Brazil which is driving the destruction of habitat. Soy.
- Soy is a bean. It's a very productive form of plant protein that's widely used. The majority goes into animal feed.
Since 2006, efforts have been made to reduce deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon, so production has moved to another part of the country.
- The Cerrado is very special and in many ways it's a forgotten landscape. At first glance, it may not seem attractive. It's basically scrub grasslands, scrub forests. Yet the Cerrado has many unique species. Giant anteaters have been around for millions of years, but they have gone extinct from many areas. They only have one pup at a time, so this one pup is very precious. So the mothers carry their pups on their backs, but their habitat is being lost in front of our very eyes. Over 50% has now been transformed into agricultural landscapes.
- The greatest expansion of agriculture, the destruction of habitat in the Cerrado, is in this northern area. And here we can see the exports of soy from this area are predominantly going to China. But some of it is actually imported into the UK. We're buying as much as half a million tonnes produced in the Cerrado per year.
The majority of this is used to make feed for chickens that are sold by many British supermarkets.
- Some supermarkets and some manufacturers are starting to shift, but what our data show is that the consumption of soy in the UK, even though it's a small amount of the total exports, because of where we're buying it from, is having a disproportionate impact on certain species.
- Anteaters have to be able to move freely throughout its environment. This is important for males to find mates or when young will go find new territories. If there are barriers to movement, this can cause very serious consequences.
As the Cerrado is being cleared, anteaters can be driven into isolated islands of habitat. And the surrounding areas become lethal territory.
- The land is being crossed by highways. Sometimes when a female giant anteater dies on the road, her pup will survive. But we have found roadkill decreases the population growth rate of anteaters by half.
The unprecedented impact we are having on the planet is not only putting the ecosystems we rely on at risk. Scientists believe that our destructive relationship with nature is actually putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases.
- We've seen an increasing rate of pandemic emergence. We've had swine flu, SARS, Ebola, and we've actually looked back over every emerging disease and said, where did it originate on the planet? And what are the things going on there that could have caused it? And we've found we're behind every single pandemic and it's human impact on the environment that drives emerging diseases.
- Animals have lots of different viruses that circulate inside their bodies, just like we do. And so one of the most obvious ways that we're making it more likely that a virus would jump is that we're having lots of contacts with animals.
- The wildlife trade is at unprecedented levels. We have huge markets with tens of thousands of live animals, shedding their viruses through faeces and urine, being killed in front of you. These are incredible places for viruses to spread. And we're connected to that trade through things like the fashion industry. We've seen this huge increase in the use of fur trims for winter jackets. And that means hundreds of thousands of animals are bred in fur farms.
- You have large densities of animals put in a situation with a lot of people. To make things worse, those animals are very stressed, and we know that animals that are stressed shed viruses at higher rates.
- What also drives emerging diseases is that we are encroaching further and further every day into wildlife habitat. 31% of all emerging diseases have originated through the process of land use change. Forests around the world, where there's a lot of biodiversity, have thousands of viruses that we've never come into contact with yet. The minute we build a road in there, we start getting exposed. The first people into those logging camps go out and hunt bushmeat and pick up the viruses. That's how HIV emerged. Then we bring our livestock in. Viruses move from wildlife into livestock, into people. At every step of the process, we're bringing people closer in contact with wildlife and their viruses. It's easy to imagine that we're so far away from these diseases' origins that it's nothing to do with us. But we drive it, actually. Our consumption of beef drives this, our consumption of poultry, and the products that are used in poultry, drives this.
- My research is showing that when humans convert habitat, there's also something else at play. It's not all species that are likely to make us sick. Often the best reservoirs for the pathogens that can jump to humans are smaller bodied species, like rats and mice and certain kinds of bats. When we have intact natural systems with high biodiversity, these species are kept in check. But when humans destroy habitat, the large predators and herbivores disappear first. Which means the smaller bodied species are the big winners. They proliferate wildly. They live at super high density and are the ones far more likely to make us sick.
- So we've been saying for 20-plus years that this exploitation of our environment is driving pandemics. But what we didn't think was it was going to happen so quickly and so devastatingly.
Since the first cases of Covid-19 were identified in China and linked to a wet market in Wuhan, scientists around the world have been piecing together where and how the virus emerged.
- It was figured out quickly that it was a coronavirus. Those are known to reside in various kinds of animals, and so people started looking for the animal from which that coronavirus would have jumped into people.
- We found the closest relative to the virus in bats, in rural south China, in Yunnan Province. It's really well known for its biodiversity of plants and of animals, including bats, and they live in these incredibly complex colonies. One part of the colony's a nursery where all the kids live and the parents fly out every night to get food. But Yunnan has been under incredible change for the past few decades. High-speed rail links have gone in there, roads have been built into remote areas. And so we think Covid-19 maybe even started there. And either somebody got infected and travelled to Wuhan themselves or sent animals that they were shipping into the wildlife trade into those wet markets and then the virus exploded from there. We don't know exactly what happened yet, but it's my view that it's our relationship with nature and the way we interact with it that drove the emergence of Covid.
- We've been changing biodiversity in really critical ways that made this more likely to happen.
If we continue on our current pathway, then what we've experienced this year might not be a one-off event.
- We estimate there are going to be five new emerging diseases affecting people every year. We cannot live with that. And the rate at which they're increasing and crushing our economies, if we have one of these every decade, we cannot persist with that level.
We face a frightening future. So how has it come to this? Why haven't we acted sooner to address these issues and stem the loss of biodiversity?
- Many scientists, including myself, have been saying for the last 25 to 30 years that biodiversity is being lost due to human action.
- News reports - Thousands arrive for the largest UN meeting ever held in an effort to prevent drastic and irreversible changes"... "I'm here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet. We're a group of 12- and 13-year-olds come to tell you adults, you must change your ways."
- In 1992 at the Earth Summit, a convention was signed to protect biodiversity. It was recognised to be of critical importance to the future of Earth.
- News report - The bleak warning from scientists at a major UN conference in Japan.
- In 2010, governments came up with 20 targets to protect biodiversity. While we're making some progress, to be quite candid, we probably will not meet any of the targets.
- Part of the problem is that we don't have really good environmental laws that are global.
- Also, unfortunately, many in the private sector make a huge profit at the expense of our natural world. They want the status quo to exist.
- The reality is our world is based on economic growth, grabbing more and more.
- News report - "Thank you for joining us to examine the extinction crisis"... "The evidence is unequivocal"...
- Even today, there are people that will do anything in their power to make sure that the politicians do not act.
- News report - "I'm here to tell you that the three lead authors here from the UN are part of this con that the United Nations presents itself as the world's expert on science"...
- At a recent Congressional testimony, two of the Republican witnesses argued that the loss of biodiversity was nowhere near as serious as what we were saying in the report.
- News report - "As with the manufactured climate crisis, they are using the spectre of mass extinction to scare the public into compliance"...
- We've wasted 20 to 30 years when the governments of the world, working with the private sector, could have done a much better job conserving biodiversity. If we had acted more seriously, many species could have been saved and we would not be facing such serious threats as we're seeing today.
This year has shown the vulnerability of our societies. Will we take the opportunity, finally, to change our course? What can governments, industries and we as individuals do to slow this decline of the natural world?
- The world has been on pause during the pandemic, and as we begin to move forward, we have a moment, we can change the way we're running our world and make it better. This is that moment.
- The first thing that we have to do is to reset the way we run our economies.
- News report - "The massive hit to the economy is no surprise. The UK economy has lost a quarter of its value. The world is in a recession".
- Governments are recognising that they have to invest to drive out of it. And I've been involved in a study with the finance ministries and the central bank governors of the world in thinking through what the best ways out of this crisis are. And we've found that those investments which are good for the environment are very powerful ways out of the depression that we find ourselves in. So, for example, we could begin work on restoring degraded land. We can plant trees, we can start retrofitting buildings so they're much more efficient, make our cities much cleaner. All those examples can be done quickly, they are labour intensive and are strong economic multipliers. So exactly the kind of things you need for a strong recovery. There are all these things we know we have to do for biodiversity and for the climate, so let's bring them forward to this period of unemployment. And then, going forwards, we need to dramatically change the damage that we do from producing and consuming. That's the big prize.
- At the moment, nature is coming as a free good. We use rivers and estuaries as sinks for the pollution we create from industry. Who's paying for that? Large chunks of the rainforests have been converted at prices which are astonishingly low given the cost to the rest of the world. As an economist, I think it's right that people who extract from nature pay the due price.
- We have to recognise that nature has true value that is taken into consideration in national accounts. We also need to start producing affordable food without expanding any further into the forest. This is indeed quite possible. One of the biggest problems is incredible - we actually waste about 40% of the food that is produced.
- If a farmer can't produce stuff in exactly the right form, he has to throw it away. And of course, we throw it away from the plate.
- If we could reduce that food waste, it would go a long, long way to making a more sustainable agricultural system. And also, we need to reduce the amount of chemicals, we've got to make sure we're not degrading our soils. We need the best of the private sector to show the others they can make a profit and still conserve nature.
- Another possible solution is to make more rules. There does have to be some standard.
- We can't simply depend upon people and institutions of goodwill to do what is needed to be done.
- If governments imposed legislation that says we will not be allowing the imports of products that are produced in an unsustainable way, then it levels the playing field.
- Lots of people don't like government regulation, but there are some tremendous success stories of international legal cooperation. Back in the 1980s, scientists figured out chemicals used in aerosol spray or used in refrigerants were actually eating the ozone layer.
- News report - "About a million tonnes of CFCs are produced every year"...
- The nations of the world got together and they banned these chemicals, and the problem was solved because once the manufacturing companies started looking for alternatives, they found them quite quickly. So we shouldn't be demoralised, because we know how to do this stuff. It's a question of finding the political will to do it.
- We shape the future of the planet irretrievably by the decisions we take in this next few years. And indeed, in the months now, as we come out of the Covid crisis.
- For those of us who care about the future of our planet, you know, we have to look at our lifestyles and we can't look away from our own behaviours.
- 40 years ago, people consumed a good deal less in the United Kingdom, but there is no evidence that we were unhappier then than we are now.
- We can be more diligent about thinking about what we're consuming and when.
- It's really digging down, saying, what's going on here? Where does that come from? We need to think about meat and dairy consumption.
- That's not to say that none of us should ever eat meat or should cut all dairy out of our diets. But we have to demand that they are produced sustainably.
- Increasingly, I feel it's not just about our current lifestyle, but about the education of our children on the way nature works.
- There's a wave of revolution going around, especially with young people. We are waking up, we are realising that the planet is an integral part of our existence.
- If we don't act now, the youth of today and the youth of tomorrow are going to look back on this generation with absolute horror. "What were you thinking?!"
- I want to tell our youth we have taken the lessons, that we will not allow any other species to walk this tragic road of extinction.
One thing we do know is that if nature is given the chance, it can bounce back. 40 years ago, I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was in the Virunga Mountains, which straddle the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. And there I met some of the few remaining mountain gorillas, including a mischievous youngster called Poppy.
- Footage - "As I sit here, there's more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know".
As I was preparing to talk to camera, Poppy was at my feet, trying to take off my shoes. It was an experience that has stayed with me, but it was tinged with sadness as I thought I might be seeing some of the last of their kind.
- In the 1970s, this population of mountain gorillas was estimated to be around 250 individuals in this area. They were on the brink of extinction. Their habitat was under very rapid conversion from forest to agricultural fields.
This part of Rwanda was one of the poorest and most densely populated in the country. And the expansion of agriculture was the only way for most people to survive.
- There were tensions between the park and communities. We had many poachers coming, setting snares, cutting bamboo.
- Coexistence of humans and mountain gorillas really wasn't a reality that many people saw. But over the next few decades, the situation would start to change. Government in all three countries, conservation organisations and local communities started to work together with an emphasis not just on the gorillas, but on the people that live with them.
- We have over 200 rangers, and their jobs is to see every gorilla and check on the habitat. And since 2005, the government set up a tourism revenue sharing scheme.
- A portion of the price that a tourist pays is actually reserved for those communities adjacent. The result is that the conversion of habitat for agricultural production actually ceased. And the population has recovered.
- 30 babies were born in this park last year, and we know that these gorillas are going to grow. No-one will be a victim of poachers. So, things have changed.
- Their numbers have just reached and exceeded 1,000. This change has not happened overnight, but if it can be achieved here, where human population pressure is so high, where the politics can be very complicated, especially among different states, I believe it can be achieved elsewhere as well. Poppy grew up and actually was a very long-lived mountain gorilla and had many offspring.
- Ururabyo is actually the daughter of Poppy. Ururabyo means flower. She is shining flower in this park.
- Ururabyo also has a daughter.
To see Poppy's daughter and granddaughter thriving is thrilling. It just shows what we can achieve when we put our minds to it. I do truly believe that together we can create a better future. I might not be here to see it, but if we make the right decisions at this critical moment, we can safeguard our planet's ecosystems, its extraordinary biodiversity and all its inhabitants. What happens next is up to every one of us.