SIR David Attenborough has taken a bit of stick recently for showing too many pretty pictures of wildlife in his TV documentaries, and not supporting direct action groups like Extinction Rebellion. The Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, recently accused him of “betrayal”.

But the nonagenarian naturalist wasn’t painting any pretty pictures in his speech to the UN climate conference in Poland: “If we don’t take climate action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of the natural world is on the horizon.” Looking at the streets of Paris, you could be forgiven for thinking the collapse had already begun.

Action is being taken, of course, though it seems painfully slow. The Conference Of Parties (COP24) gathering of 40 heads of state, including our own Nicola Sturgeon, is supposed to spend the next two weeks deciding how to honour the 2015 Paris Accords and keep global warming below 2 degrees.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already moved the dial and is now predicting climate catastrophe if the mercury goes significantly above 1.5 degrees. It’s hard to see the way forward, when one of the biggest emitters, the United States, has boycotted the Paris Accords on the grounds that developing countries are pulling a fast one.

COP24 will contribute its share of hot air. The Polish government has promised to plant six million trees to offset the 55,000 tons of CO2 that will be emitted by the conference. Though this gesture is somewhat negated by having the Katowice conference sponsored, bizarrely, by the coal industry. Some 80 per cent of Poland’s energy comes from coal. The First Minister’s headline announcement as she took the stage yesterday was a £200,000 investment in a project to mitigate climate change; a worthy endeavour, no doubt, but it sounded like a drop in the bucket in the face of climate apocalypse. Ms Sturgeon’s commitment to cutting emissions by 90% in Scotland by 2050 is sincere, albeit comfortably distant.

But we shouldn’t be too cynical about “COPOUT24”, as it’s been called. We don’t live in a dictatorship and the only way to get anything done is by jaw jaw, long reports and political leaders making deals. Progress has been made. The science of climate change is largely undisputed and everyone knows what needs to be done, broadly speaking. The priority, in developed countries, is to phase out fossil fuel use in transport and home heating. Electrification should be technically possible in countries like Scotland with abundant renewable electricity. The question is: who pays?

To many ordinary people, who don’t get to speak at climate conferences, it all looks like the global elite is planning how to dump the cost on them. Paris is still smouldering from the riots of the “Gilet Jaunes” the Yellow Vests, who have expressed their opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s climate change fuel tax hike in the traditional French way: by hurling rocks at it.

Some suspect that the French rioters are really far right thugs using the fuel issue as a pretext to fight the police. It’s hard for liberals to understand why people would fight to keep cars. But there is very widespread popular support for the Yellow Vests, because many poor communities genuinely depend on the car. I meet Gilet Jaunes-type folk every year in the Ariege Region of the French Pyrenees. It’s as heartbreakingly depressed as it is heartbreakingly beautiful. There is no public transport to speak of and all the village shops closed years ago. As in much of rural and small town France, the only way to get around here is by car, or by hitch-hiking.

All over the Ariege you see families squashed into crumbling Renaults and Peugeots, models that disappeared from cities 20 or 30 years ago. The cost of running these inefficient vehicles takes a big slice of meagre incomes yet they have no choice.

The Gilet Jaunes sense, probably correctly, that those wealthy enough to live in the newly-refurbished (at public cost) city centres will have little difficulty doing without their diesels. They’ll be driving around in Teslas, automated electric taxis or those ubiquitous electric scooters that have been taking over continental cities (but not for some reason the UK’s). But in country and many suburban areas going green isn’t just a lifestyle choice.

Many urban liberals probably feel these “backward” areas with their animal husbandry and heavy use of diesel transport are a lost cause. Why bother? Just re-wild them and import bears and wolves (which the French government is doing in the Ariege, to the fury of many locals). But the Ariegois won’t go down without a fight.

Nor, I suspect, will similarly marginal areas of Scotland. Yet the First Minister’s Transition Commission to a carbon free future is phasing out petrol and diesels in little more than a decade, without any guarantee of a viable replacement. This is not just a problem for country areas.

Think of all those new-build suburban estates, all boxy houses and cul de sacs, built around the private car. Precious few of Scotland’s villages and towns have rail links, and buses are now as scarce as policemen on the beat.

Electric cars are expensive, there’s still only a handful of charging points and, anyway, environmentalists claim they’re not much better for the planet than petrol ones. If we’re serious about climate change, there needs to be a comprehensive electric public transport system, based on computerised through-ticketing. This is much more difficult, and expensive, than flying to conferences exchanging optimistic targets.

The Gilet Jaunes aren’t petrol-head fascists; they’re the canary in the COP24 coal mine. Political legitimacy, not climate change denial, is arguably the biggest obstacle to meeting the Paris climate targets. Faced with further mayhem, Mr Macron has frozen the fuel-tax increase. He says he can’t allow the country to be divided. But it is.

If the UK and Scottish governments don’t put their money where their mouths are, our homegrown British “left behinds” could soon make the 2000 fuel protests look like a Sunday outing.