COP26 climate summit: History will be our judge, says Boris Johnson


oris Johnson warned world leaders on Monday that “history will judge us” as they were locked in a 48-hour race to salvage a success from the COP26 climate summit.

The Prime Minister issued the urgent rallying call ahead of welcoming more than 120 political leaders to Glasgow.

With the prime ministers and presidents of the G20 group of major economies having failed to make a significant breakthrough on global warming at weekend talks in Rome, Mr Johnson tweeted: “History will judge us on what we achieve over the next two weeks. We cannot let future generations down.”

As he delivered his address at open the conference he said the world is strapped to a “doomsday device” that is climate change.

Johnson likened an ever-warming Earth’s position to that of James Bond – strapped to a bomb that will destroy the planet and trying to work out how to defuse it.

He urged world leaders not to “fluff our lines”, warning that younger generations will “not forgive us”.

He said: “The children who will judge us are children not yet born, and their children.

“We are now coming centre stage before a vast and uncountable audience of posterity and we must not fluff our lines or miss our cue.

“Because if we fail, they will not forgive us – they will know that Glasgow was the historic turning point when history failed to turn.

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

“Cop26 will not and cannot be the end of the story on climate change.”

Addressing the opening ceremony, the Prince of Wales told world leaders: “Many of your countries are already feeling the devastating impact of climate change, through ever-increasing droughts, mudslides, floods, hurricanes, cyclones and wildfires.

“Any leader who has had to confront such life-threatening challenges knows that the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of prevention.

“So, I can only urge you, as the world’s decision-makers, to find practical ways of overcoming differences so we can all get down to work, together, to rescue this precious planet and save the threatened future of our young people.”


He added: “We have to put ourselves on what might be called a war-like footing.”

Sir David Attenborough spoke in the opening ceremony alongside a dramatic soundtrack and a video showing striking images of the planet.

He said: “Our burning of fossil fuels, our destruction of nature, our approach to industry, construction and learning, our releasing carbon into the atmosphere – we are already in trouble.

“The stability that we all depend on is breaking. This story is one of inequality as well as instability. Today those who have done the least to cause this problem are being the hardest hit – ultimately all of us will feel the impacts, some of which are now unavoidable.”

“In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a terrible decline,” said the 95-year-old. “In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery.”

Their rallying calls came as:

•Joe Biden arrived in Scotland this morning from Italy and was set to use “the power of America showing up” for stronger action on global warming, although he faces a battle to get his own plans through Congress. The presidential convoy of dozens of gas-guzzling vehicles, including The Beast in which he travels, has been criticised by environmentalists.

•China’s President, Xi Jinping, was set to address the summit in a written statement, according to the official schedule, further dampening hopes that he will make any substantial new commitment, having set the goal for his country of net zero by 2060.

•Russian President Vladimir Putin was to deliver a recorded message, and there were hopes of a significant announcement on halting deforestation.

•In a further apparent blow to the summit, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also decided not to travel to Glasgow and flew straight home from the G20 summit in Rome.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, right, greet India Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow. The U.N. climate summit in Glasgow gathers leaders from around the world, in Scotland’s biggest city, to lay out their vision for addressing the common challenge of global warming.

/ AP

•Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 18, was asking her millions of supporters to sign an open letter accusing leaders of betrayal. “As citizens across the planet, we urge you to face up to the climate emergency,” she tweeted. “Not next year. Not next month. Now.”

•Mr Johnson launched a Clean Green Initiative, which included a doubling of UK aid-funded green investments to more than £3 billion over five years, to help developing countries switch to cleaner technology and grow their economies sustainably.

He desperately needed to inject momentum into two days of high-level COP26 talks to twist the arm of world leaders to “keep alive” the hope of being able to stop the planet from being ravaged by catastrophic fires, floods and heatwaves.

The Prime Minister and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed leaders one by one with elbow bumps and smiles in front of a giant planet earth on a blue background.

Mr Guterres told them: “”We are digging our own graves. Our planet is changing before our eyes – from the ocean depths to mountaintops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events.”

To pile on the pressure for action, Mr Johnson was today due to bring leaders of some of the world’s biggest polluters face-to-face with those of nations in danger of disappearing beneath the waves as sea levels rise, or seeing vast tracts of land destroyed by fire.

He was seeking to stir them into action after the G20 in Rome was only able to recognise “the key relevance” of halting net emissions “by or around mid-century”, set no timetable for phasing out coal at home and watered down promises to cut emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Some 25,000 delegates from 196 countries were descending on Glasgow for the summit, which aims to keep within reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The summit lasts for two weeks but the next 48 hours is seen as crucial to making a breakthrough as that is when the world’s leaders will be there.

Seeking to take a lead on Monday, Mr Johnson announced Britain would give an extra £1 billion by 2025, provided the economy grows as forecast, towards a $100 billion (£73 billion) fund from wealthy nations to help poorer countries transition to green economies and bypassing the worst effects of being fossil fuel dependent.

However, the $100 billion goal is not expected to be reached before 2023 and environmentalists and experts in poorer nations are sceptical that the money will be fully delivered.

Mr Johnson urged “ambition, action and acceleration” in his opening speech today to make progress on “coal, cars, cash and trees” to slash emissions by 2030 and “keep alive” the 1.5C goal.

In his opening address, Prince Charles added: “Any leader who has had to confront such life-threatening challenges knows that the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of prevention.”

More than 190 countries signed the 2015 Paris Agreement which aimed to limit rising global temperatures to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, preferably limiting it to 1.5C. A UN report is warning that temperatures are set to rise to 2.7C. To keep 1.5C within reach, scientists say carbon emissions must be halved by 2030, from 2010 levels.

Smallpiper Brìghde Chaimbeul gave world leaders a Scottish welcome to the COP26 summit by performing in the opening ceremony with her own arrangement of the traditional melodies An Léimras and Harris Dance.

The launch also included a video of space-themed images with a voiceover from physicist Brian Cox who said the world is “inconceivably valuable.”

In his recorded message, he said: “It’s possible that there’s only one civilisation in the milky way galaxy. There may have only ever been one, and there may only ever be one – and that’s us.

“We may be the first and last – that’s important. If you’re looking for a hint as to how we should behave politically, towards each other, towards our planet, then this idea matters.

“Imagine that the earth is the only place in a galaxy where intelligent life exists. The only place where collections of atoms as old as time have come together into improbable patterns that can think and feel and bring meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe.

‘How should we behave? Surely notwithstanding the fact that we’re tiny, fragile things, on a mote of dust orbiting around one star amongst 400billion. We must consider ourselves and our world to be inconceivably valuable.”

After the video, Chorley-born writer Yrsa Daley-Ward then presented a poem, which opened with her saying: ‘Nothing will be saved without you. It is important to begin with the fact. This is your invitation to lead with light.

World leaders addressed the summit as it opened. President Biden stressed the opportunities on offer from addressing climate change.

He said: “We know that none of us can escape the worse that’s yet to come if we fail to seize this moment.

“But, ladies and gentlemen, within the growing catastrophe I believe there’s an incredible opportunity, not just for the United States but for all of us.

“We’re standing at inflection point in world history.

“We have the ability to invest in ourselves and build an equitable clean energy future, and in the process create millions of good-paying jobs and opportunities around the world.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said every country must honour the financial commitments made in the 2015 Paris agreement.


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