Tackling climate change is the “biggest economic opportunity” in the history of the US no matter who holds political office, the Hollywood star and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio said on Friday.
“There are a few very prominent people that still deny the overwhelming conclusions of the world’s scientists that climate change is largely human-caused and needs immediate urgent attention,” he told a United Nations awards ceremony.
But “the truth” about climate change has spread like “wildfire”, he said.
DiCaprio’s comments, as he received a prize for his work as a global citizen, did not refer to the US president-elect, Donald Trump, by name but were a thinly-veiled reference to his views and nominations of climate sceptics with oil industry ties for cabinet posts.
Earlier this month, 42-year-old DiCaprio and the head of his foundation met Trump and his team, reportedly arguing that support for renewable energy could create millions of jobs.
Trump has suggested climate change is a hoax and raised the possibility of withdrawing US support for a new global accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which most scientists believe are driving up sea levels and causing more droughts and violent storms.
“In less than 100 years of our pollution-based prosperity, we humans have put our entire existence in jeopardy,” said DiCaprio, who released his own documentary, Before the Flood, on the impacts of global warming two months ago.
DiCaprio, who won an Oscar this year for playing a fur trapper battling nature in The Revenant, said his documentary was the most viewed “in history … [showing] just how much the world cares about the issue of climate change”.
But he said the battle to address it was far from over, calling on the world to implement the Paris agreement on climate change, which came into effect in November, and to “go further”.
People everywhere are acting to curb the damage to humans, nature and wildlife from a warming planet, DiCaprio said – from putting a price on carbon emissions to buying cleaner cars, eating less meat, and businesses vowing to be carbon-neutral.
“To those who may be discouraged by naysayers, let me remind you, the environmental awakening is all over the world and the progress we have made so far … has always been because of people, not governments,” DiCaprio told the United Nations correspondents association event in downtown New York.
DiCaprio, who has worked closely with outgoing UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on climate action, congratulated him for “elevating the significance of climate change to one of fundamental global sustainability and peace”.
Without Ban’s persistence, the world would never have made so much progress on climate change, culminating in the Paris agreement sealed in December 2015, DiCaprio said.
Earlier on Friday, Ban said acting on climate change meant “jobs, growth, cleaner air and better health”, adding that leaders of top companies, governors and mayors understood this.
The Paris agreement was “a precious achievement that we must support and nurture”, he told his final press conference at the United Nations. “There is no turning back.”