'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 COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? 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.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

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 COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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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”.