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COP26’s most melodramatic claims: From Nazi ‘genocide’ to ‘treating nature like a toilet’


World figures dialed up their end-of-the-world rhetoric today as they gave a series of stark warnings in speeches kicking off the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Delegates attending the opening ceremony for the two-day World Leaders Summit at the start of the conference were hit with a wave of melodramatic metaphors and hyperbole intended to bring new urgency to the international climate negotiations.

While UN chief Antonio Guterres told dignitaries he had seen enough of countries ‘treating nature like a toilet’, nearby Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby compared inaction over climate change to the Nazi genocide in the 1940s – a comment he quickly apologised for.

Over 130 countries are being represented at the leaders’ summit portion of the conference which kicked off with a series of speeches welcoming those set to be involved in negotiating new pledges to cut emissions.

But viewers complained that the tone from speakers had ranged from doom-mongering to hyperbole.

World figures dialed up their end-of-the-world rhetoric today as they gave a series of stark warnings in speeches kicking off the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow. The speakers included (from left) UN chief Antonio Guterres, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough

Boris Johnson’s doomsday clock

The metaphors began early, with Boris Johnson’s speech in which described global warming as ‘a doomsday device’ strapped to humanity.

In his address to delegates, the Prime Minister said the children who would judge today’s leaders are children not yet born, and their children, and warned that if leaders failed in Glasgow ‘they will not forgive us’.

‘They will judge us with bitterness and with a resentment that eclipses any of the climate activists of today, and they will be right.’

He likened the plight of the planet to James Bond strapped to a doomsday device and hurtling towards destruction, warning ‘it was one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now’.

The anger and impatience of the world would be ‘uncontainable’ unless Cop26 was the moment leaders got real about climate change, he said.

Channelling his hero Sir Winston Churchill, Mr Johnson said: ‘While Cop26 would not be the end of climate change, it can and it must mark the beginning of the end.’

He also warned of the dangers of rising temperatures, jeopardising food supplies for hundreds of millions of people, more wildfires and eventually the loss of whole cities such as Miami, Alexandria and Shanghai.

Antonio Guterres: ‘Stop treating nature like a toilet’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the same hall later on, using his speech to criticise the actions of countries over the last decades.

‘We face a stark choice: either we stop it [climate change] – or it stops us,’ he told the opening plenary in Glasgow.

‘It’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalising biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon.’ 

In an emotive moment, the 72-year-old former Portuguese leader told nations to stop ‘treating nature like a toilet’, adding that we are ‘burning and drilling and mining our way deeper’

‘We are digging our own graves’, he added, referring to the addiction to fossil fuels which threatens to push humanity and the planet, to the brink. 

World figures dialed up their end-of-the-world rhetoric today as they gave a series of stark warnings in speeches marking the start of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, today accused countries of 'treating nature like a toilet'

World figures dialed up their end-of-the-world rhetoric today as they gave a series of stark warnings in speeches marking the start of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, today accused countries of ‘treating nature like a toilet’

Archbishop of Canterbury’s apologises for Nazi genocide analogy

Perhaps the most shocking use of language came from outside the plenary hall – and from a dignitary rather than a nation’s leader.

In an interview with the BBC, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that leaders would be ‘cursed’ if they didn’t reach agreement on climate change in the next fortnight.

Asked to follow up on the comment, he added that a failure to act would allow ‘a genocide on an infinitely greater scale’ than was committed by Hitler’s regime. 

‘People will speak of them 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 have will have no means of averting it,’ he said.

But before the footage was even aired he tweeted a grovelling apology in a desperate bid to defuse the oncoming backlash.

‘I unequivocally apologise for the words I used when trying to emphasise the gravity of the situation facing us at COP26,’ he wrote. 

‘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 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.

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.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the outcome of the climate summit would be 'life or death for millions of people', suggesting that failure to act could be worse than leaders who ignored warnings about the Nazis in the 1930s

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the outcome of the climate summit would be ‘life or death for millions of people’, suggesting that failure to act could be worse than leaders who ignored warnings about the Nazis in the 1930s

Attenborough: Humanity is ‘already in trouble’ 

Broadcaster Sir David Attenborough is no stranger to setting a dramatic scene – his voiceovers on BBC wildlife documentaries go back several decades.

And the naturalist had delegates gripped as he told the plenary hall that humanity was ‘already in trouble’ but that there was an opportunity to ‘turn tragedy into triumph’.

‘Is this how our story is due to end – a tale of the smartest species doomed by that all-too-human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals?’ he later asked.

He added that the fate of future generations must give delegates the impetus ‘to rewrite our story’.

The impassioned speech drew a standing ovation.

Naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough told attendees that humanity was 'already in trouble' but that there was an opportunity to 'turn tragedy into triumph' at the two-week meeting

Naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough told attendees that humanity was ‘already in trouble’ but that there was an opportunity to ‘turn tragedy into triumph’ at the two-week meeting

Barbados PM: ‘It is immoral and unjust’ 

Following several gloomy speeches, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s address added moral thunder and a first-hand view of the fears of climate change.

Speaking for vulnerable island nations, she warned leaders not to ‘allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction’.

‘This is immoral and it is unjust,’ she continued. ‘Are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?’

‘1.5 Celsius is what we need to stay alive — two degrees is a death sentence for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, for the people of the Maldives, for the people of Dominica and Fiji, for the people of Kenya and Mozambique — and yes, for the people of Samoa and Barbados. We do not want that dreaded death sentence, and we’ve come here today to say: “Try harder, try harder”.’



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