THE Archbishop of Canterbury set the stage for the opening of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow by telling political leaders that history would judge unsparingly their efforts, or lack of them, to tackle the crisis.
He told the BBC: “They could have been brilliant in everything else they’ve done, and they will be cursed if they don’t get this right. They could have been rubbish at everything else they’ve done, but if they get this right, the children of today will rise up and bless them in 50 years.”
Asked about the use of “cursed”, he said that it was deliberate. “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 will have no means of averting it.
“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.”
He later apologised on Twitter for the comparison with the Holocaust. “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.”
On the opening day of the summit, world leaders also emphasised the urgency of action.
The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. We face a stark choice: either we stop it, or it stops us. It’s time to say, ‘Enough. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.”
The President of the United States, Joe Biden, said: “This is the challenge of our collective lifetimes, an existential threat to human existence as we know it. And, every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases. So, let this be the moment that we answer history’s call, here in Glasgow.”
The Prime Minister warned that “the anger and impatience of the world will be uncontainable” if the summit failed to keep the world on track to limiting global heating to 1.5ºC.
In his BBC interview, Archbishop Welby spoke about the $100 billion of climate finance that rich nations had promised poorer countries by 2020, but were now saying would not be delivered before 2023.
Albin HillertThe Archbishop of Canterbury walks through the COP26 venue, on Monday
He said: “All moral thinking starts with the idea that if you’re going to do the right thing, it needs action: money. Are they going to reach the amounts of money committed — the $100 billion a year — which is a fraction of what was paid out during the great banking crisis, in 2008-9; are they going to reach the amount of money that actually says we’re serious about this?”
Leaders of developing countries expressed the same concern. The President of Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera, said: “The money pledged to the least developed nations by developed nations is not a donation, but a cleaning fee. Neither Africa in general, nor Malawi in particular, will take no for an answer — not any more.”
The President of Liberia, George Weah, said: “Although we bear the brunt of the impact of climate change, we benefit the least from existing solutions and financial arrangements currently in place for tackling climate change. In order to address this imbalance, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we tackle mismatched climate investment.”
High winds and flooding hampered delegates’ efforts to reach Glasgow from London, leaving many rail passengers stranded by cancellations after a tree was blown on to the railway near Milton Keynes.
Only days after the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, had announced a tax cut for domestic air travel, having been urged to invest in low-carbon transport instead, Gwen Buck, of the pressure group Green Alliance, wrote on Twitter: “Some really top direct action from a tree this morning, which has successfully grounded all trains to #COP26. Whilst we can’t be sure what the tree’s demand was, I think it probably has something to do with greater investment in rail infrastructure.”
On Monday morning, the first day of the world leaders’ segment of the talks, queuing to enter the Scottish Event Campus, where the summit is being held, took up to 90 minutes. Staff who were trying to enter to speed up the process were stuck in the mass of people outside.
Congestion is likely to ease once world leaders leave on Tuesday night, when the national representatives will be left to negotiate the outcomes, which will be announced next weekend.
Among the announcements already been made is a commitment by India to reducing its emissions to net zero by 2070.
The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has committed £1 million to a fund to address the permanent losses and damages caused by climate change. The issue of “loss and damage” has long been talked about, and was included in the Paris Agreement. Until now, most rich countries have not acted on this. It is hoped that Scotland’s intervention will encourage other developed countries to follow suit and commit funds of their own.
Also on Monday, members of the Religions for Peace Global Women of Faith Network issued a joint statement calling on governments and corporations to fulfil the “common mission of protecting and nurturing our planet”.
The statement was presented to the Prince of Wales by Ravinder Kaur Nijjar, from Glasgow, who chairs the Religions for Peace UK Women of Faith Network and is the Sikh representative on the Scottish Religious Leaders Forum.
She said: “Throughout history, women disproportionately suffer the consequences of violent conflict, poverty, and restrictions on their freedoms. Women are the first ones to face difficulties caused by social or political conflict, but respond with concrete action to help others.
“The climate crisis brings this reality to the forefront once more. Women and children are among the most affected by climate change, but they are also the ones in position to initiate change at the grass-roots level.”
Members of the public are expected to show their concern about climate change at marches in Glasgow, London, and elsewhere on Saturday, in what is being billed a “global day of action”. Visit takeclimateaction.uk for more information.