UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has issued an appeal to world leaders to do more to tackle climate change.
Over the next two weeks, delegates will try to finalize a plan to limit global warming, but expectations are low.
"In short, we need a complete transformation of our global energy economy, as well as how we manage land and forest resources", Mr Guterres said.
"As a outcome, access to water, food, the conditions for stability, peace and prosperity are more than ever under threat; and if the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the 2°C temperature goal, let alone the 1.5°C, can still be reached", they warned.
The opening ceremony could not have been more dramatic as Attenborough warned that climate change is a man-made disaster on a global scale.
Natural historian David Attenborough listens to speeches during the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, Poland, on Monday. "Leaders of the world, you must lead".
Guterres also urged negotiators not to forget that the challenges they face pale in comparison to the difficulties climate change is already causing millions around the world whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by rising sea levels, drought and more powerful storms.
The meeting received a boost over the weekend when 19 major economies at the G20 summit affirmed their commitment to the 2015 Paris climate accord.
The conference, attended by 30,000 delegates from 196 countries including Ireland, is being held in Katowice, in the heart of Poland's coal-mining region.
"For some people, this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt", said Natalie Mahowald, a Cornell University climate scientist and lead author of the IPCC report.
Just last week, the UN's environment programme said the voluntary national contributions agreed in Paris would have to triple if the world was to cap global warming below 2C.
The talks in Poland also aim to draw up the rulebook for making the Paris deal operational, and poorer countries will be looking for a boost to the finance being made available to help them develop cleanly.
Host country Poland is proposing a slow approach to ease the financial blow from move away from fossil fuels.
Waskow, who has followed climate talks for years, said despite the Trump administration's refusal to back this global effort the momentum is going in the right direction.
In a rare intervention, presidents of previous United Nations climate summits issued a joint statement as the talks got under way, calling on states to take "decisive action.to tackle these urgent threats".
A key issue up for debate is how the fight against climate change is funded, with developed and developing nations still world's apart in their demands.
Four former leaders of United Nations talks, including Laurent Fabius of France, who led negotiations for the Paris agreement, issued a statement urging immediate action.
Guterres called for a "huge increase in ambitions" during the two weeks of negotiations in Poland, adding "we can not afford to fail in Katowice".
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