The Archbishop of Canterbury today issued a grovelling apology after saying failure to get a climate change deal would mean a worse ‘genocide’ than committed by the Nazis.
Justin Welby said he was sorry for ‘offence caused to Jews’ after making the extraordinary remarks at the COP26 summit.
Mr Welby has given a series of interviews to broadcasters, and in one he told the BBC leaders will be ‘cursed’ if they don’t reach agreement on climate change in the next fortnight.
He said failure to act would allow ‘a genocide on an infinitely greater scale’ than was committed by Hitler’s regime.
But before the footage was even aired he tweeted in a desperate bid to defuse the backlash.
‘I unequivocally apologise for the words I used when trying to emphasise the gravity of the situation facing us at COP26,’ he wrote.
Justin Welby said he was sorry for ‘offence caused to Jews’ after making the remarks in an interview at the COP26 summit
Mr Welby tweeted saying sorry for the remarks before the interview had even aired. ‘I unequivocally apologise for the words I used when trying to emphasise the gravity of the situation facing us at COP26,’ he said.
‘It’s never right to make comparisons with the atrocities brought by the Nazis, and I’m sorry for the offence caused to Jews by these words.’
Mr Welby said in the interview: ‘People will speak of them (current world leaders) in far stronger terms than we speak today of the politicians of the 30s, of the politicians who ignored what was happening in Nazi Germany because this will kill people all around the world for generations, and we will have no means of averting it.’
Asked whether that mean failure to act on climate change would be worse than people allowing genocide to happen, he replied: ‘It will allow a genocide on an infinitely greater scale.
‘I’m not sure there’s grades of genocide, but there’s width of genocide, and this will be genocide indirectly, by negligence, recklessness, that will in the end come back to us or to our children and grandchildren.’
The initial reports of the Archbishop’s remarks caused outrage.
Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard said: ‘If this is as reported it is so sickening that I simply cannot comprehend how Welby can remain as a priest, let alone Archbishop.’
However, he added after Mr Welby retracted the words: ‘Welby apology was quick and clear. And a proper apology, not mealy mouthed. An incident to note and move on.’
Before the apology Downing Street had declined to criticise the Archbishop.
‘We have seen from the PM’s speech how seriously he takes this,’ Mr Johnson’s spokesman said.
‘It is a matter for individuals how they choose to frame it…
‘Those attending here understand how serious this is.’
The comments by Mr Welby came amid a flurry of blood-curdling warnings at the summit about the consequences of failing to tackle climate change.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres insisted it is an ‘illusion’ to think there has been enough progress reducing carbon emissions, and said mining for coal, oil and gas is like ‘digging our own graves’.
Mr Guterres told delegates the world’s ‘addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink’.
‘We face a stark choice: either we stop it — or it stops us,’ he said.
Antonio Gutteres insisted it is an ‘illusion’ to think there has been enough progress reducing carbon emissions, and mining for fossil fuels is like ‘digging our own graves’
Mr Guterres greeted all 120 world leaders to the summit individually alongside Boris Johnson – and received a particularly effusive welcome from India’s Narendra Modi
Mr Johnson and Sir David Attenborough were in the audience listening to speeches on the first day of the leaders’ summit
What are the key aims at COP26?
- Secure commitments on cutting emissions by 2030 and reaching Net Zero as close to 2050 as possible.
- Keep alive hopes of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.
- Phase out unabated coal power stations, drum up investment in renewable energy.
- Strike deals on reducing deforestation.
- Rack up $100billion in climate finance pledges.
- Finalise rules to implement the Paris Agreement.
‘It’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalising biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet.
‘Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves. ‘
In his speech, Boris Johnson told world leaders they can no longer afford to delay taking major action to address climate change – saying ‘the longer we fail to act, the worse it gets’.
The Prime Minister compared the situation facing the globe to the climax of a James Bond film where the hero has to thwart plans to blow up the planet.
But Mr Johnson said ‘this is not a movie’ and the ‘doomsday device is real’ as he urged his counterparts to do more to reduce harmful emissions.
The premier said the longer countries wait to take action then ‘the higher the price when we are eventually forced by catastrophe to act’.
He said the world has ‘long since run the clock down on climate change’ and there is now just ‘one minute to midnight’, with action required immediately to prevent a global disaster.
The PM used his speech at the opening of the summit as a rallying cry to try to build momentum as he welcomed foreign leaders to Glasgow after securing only lukewarm climate commitments at the G20 summit in Rome over the weekend.
However, hopes for the UN event have suffered fresh setbacks, after it emerged that China’s president Xi Jinping will not even give a ‘virtual’ speech, instead only submitting a written statement.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan also announced he will not be coming, despite attending the G20. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, both in charge of big polluters, have declined to attend.
Meanwhile, the organisation of the conference has come under fire after thousands of delegates were forced to wait hours to get through shambolic security systems this morning.
The premier said the longer countries wait to take action then ‘the higher the price when we are eventually forced by catastrophe to act’. Mr Johnson is pictured welcoming Joe Biden to the summit today
French president Emmanuel Macron gestures to the Prime Minister as they chat on Monday morning as the climate change summit kicks off
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are pictured arriving for the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow
Mr Johnson greets Comoros’ President Azali Assoumani, left, and St Lucia’s Prime Minister Philip Joseph Pierre, right
Mr Johnson pledged in his lunchtime speech to put another billion pounds into green finance – as long as the UK economy performs as expected in the coming years.
The PM repeated he wants global leaders to unveil steps on ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’ – the things he believes will make the most different in limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.
Mr Johnson had set the tone as the G20 wrapped up last night by reading the riot act to his fellow world leaders, saying their promises on tackling climate change are starting to ‘sound hollow’.
The PM said there are ‘no compelling excuses for our procrastination’ on reducing harmful emissions and action already taken amounts to ‘drops in a rapidly warming ocean’.