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

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COP26’s most melodramatic claims: Archbishop of Canterbury compares summit failure to Nazi ‘genocide’ while UN secretary general says ‘nature has been treated like a toilet’

  • World figures have given speeches at the opening ceremony of Cop26 summit
  • But spectators have accused some of melodrama and over the top hyperbole
  • UN chief António Guterres accused countries of ‘treating nature like a toilet’
  • While the Archbishop of Canterbury was forced to apologise for comparing climate change failure to Nazi ‘genocide’


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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.

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.

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Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, today accused countries of ‘treating nature like a toilet’ as he warned of a looming ‘climate catastrophe’.

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.

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’

And 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 – a comment he later apologised for.

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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.

This began with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech, which described global warming as ‘a doomsday device’ strapped to humanity.

The hosting premier however was outdone by the UN’s chief Antonio Guterres, who said he had had enough of countries ‘treating nature like a toilet’.

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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

‘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.

It came as earlier today the Archbishop of Canterbury was forced to issue a grovelling apology after saying failure to get a climate change deal would mean a worse ‘genocide’ than committed by the Nazis.

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Justin Welby said he was sorry for ‘offence caused to Jews’ after making the extraordinary remarks at the COP26 summit.  

In an interview with the BBC, he said that leaders would be ‘cursed’ if they don’t reach agreement on climate change in the next fortnight.

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

He added that a failure to act would allow ‘a genocide on an infinitely greater scale’ than was committed by Hitler’s regime. 

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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. 

‘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.’

The remarks were among several that were highly critical of world leaders – some of them absent – who have so far neglected to offer substantial commitments to tackle climate change.

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And Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, speaking for vulnerable island nations, added moral thunder, warning 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?’

Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan, President of the Seychelles island nation, added: ‘We are already gasping for survival. Tomorrow is not an option for it will be too late.’ 

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