'We are digging our own graves': Leaders at COP26 told to 'stop treating Earth as a toilet'

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told leaders at the COP26 climate change conference the world is at 'one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock', Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

Humankind is "treating nature like a toilet" by continuing to use fossil fuels, the UN secretary-general has warned, after Boris Johnson told the COP26 summit that immediate action is needed to "defuse that bomb" of climate change.

The prime minister warned the climate change conference's opening ceremony that humanity has “run down the clock” on climate change and must get serious about action, before rising sea levels swallow entire cities forever.

“It’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now," he said.

Can COP26 really achieve anything? Chloe Keedy reports

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told those in Glasgow that "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 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."

Ahead of the summit Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said it will be "very, very bad news" for Earth if world leaders fail to find a solution to climate change.

Ms Truss said "there's a lot of work to do" for the 20,000 world leaders and delegates in Glasgow for this week's climate change summit, adding: "It is frankly touch and go about whether we're going to achieve what we need to achieve."

Success was one step closer when Indian PM Narendra Modi announced that his country would meet a target of net zero emissions by 2070.

'Stop it or it stops us' - UN Secretary-General issues climate change warning:

He also pledged that India will reduce its projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes between now and 2030, and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45%.

But the absence of President Xi of China - the world's biggest polluter - and no President Vladimir Putin of Russia, it is unlikely other countries around the world will be able to mitigate their impact and solve the climate crisis.

President Joe Biden accepted America had not been contributing to global efforts to cut climate change, in a very thinly veiled dig at former president Donald Trump who on a number of occasions claimed climate change was natural and not caused by humans.

He said his administration would commit to meeting a goal of reducing US admissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

He said this would "demonstrate to the world that the US is not only back at the table but will hopefully lead by the power of our example".

"None of us can escape the worse that's yet to come if we fail to seize this moment," he added.

Both Boris Johnson and Joe Biden issued rallying cries to world leaders on the first day of COP26. Credit: AP

Prime Minister Johnson said the global community must "get serious about climate change today" or it will be "too late for our children to do so tomorrow".

He said: "Four degrees and we say goodbye to whole cities, Miami, Alexandria, Shanghai, all lost beneath the waves.

"The longer we fail to act and the worse it gets and the higher the price when we are forced by catastrophe to act."

The prime minister is calling for action on phasing out coal power, protecting and restoring forests, providing finance for countries to tackle climate change and boosting electric vehicles.

Watch the COP26 climate change summit:

He's also pledging an extra £1 billion in climate finance to support developing countries by 2025 if the economy grows as forecast and the UK’s aid budget returns to the 0.7% of GDP level.

Ahead of the COP26 summit, a report revealed that developed countries would not mobilise the $100 billion goal for public and private finance until 2023.

Members of Extinction Rebellion and others walked thousands of miles to Glasgow for a protest on Saturday. Credit: PA

The UK doubled its promised climate aid to £11.6 billion over five years in 2019 and the new announcement would bring that to £12.6 billion if it is delivered.

Hundreds of environmental activists have descended on Glasgow to push their message to world leaders at the summit, with groups including Extinction Rebellion and Oxfam saying that climate change pledges do not go far enough.

Prince Charles also addressed leaders at the summit, saying the "eyes and hopes of the world" are on them to act fast because "time has quite literally run out".

He was followed by veteran natural history broadcaster David Attenborough, who said the motivation for tackling climate change should "not be fear, but hope".

He told delegates: "In my lifetime I've witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope... is why the world is looking to you and why you are here."

The COP27 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP27? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP27 is the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-18.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP27:

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is attending the conference, after initially saying he wouldn't as he was too busy focusing on the economy within his first weeks in office.

  • US President Joe Biden and his experienced climate envoy, John Kerry, will appear at the talks.

  • France President Emmanuel Macron will also be among the heads of state from around the world staying in Egypt.

King Charles III will not be attending COP27, despite being a staunch advocate for the environment. The decision was made jointly by Buckingham Palace and former prime minister Liz Truss.

Elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will not attend the talks just as they decided to do for COP26.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Ensure full implementation of the Paris Agreement and putting negotiations into concrete actions - included within this is the target of limiting global warming to well below 2C.

2. Cementing progress on the critical workstreams of mitigation, adaptation, finance and loss and damage, while stepping up finance notably to tackle the impacts of climate change.

3. Enhancing the delivery of the principles of transparency and accountability throughout the UN Climate Change process.

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The UN has warned that plans by countries to cut climate-warming emissions in the next decade were not enough to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5C, beyond which increasingly severe extreme weather, rising seas and damage to crops, health and wildlife will be felt.

Mr Johnson told the opening ceremony: “We have to move from talk and debate and discussion to concerted, real-world action on coal, cars, cash and trees.

“Not more hopes and targets and aspirations, valuable though they are, but clear commitments and concrete timetables for change.

“We need to get real about climate change and the world needs to know when that’s going to happen”.