COP26: 'The clock has run out' over climate change, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warns

'I think the clock has run out,' Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tells ITV News's Julie Etchingham


The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested Boris Johnson's comments that the world is at "one minute to midnight" over climate change could be too optimistic.

Instead, Justin Welby said: "I think the clock has run out".

He continued: "The question is can we begin to reverse it? Can we deal with the impact of what's already happened and ensure that it doesn't go significantly further?"

The Church of England’s most senior leader also compared a lack of action over climate change to leaders who ignored warnings about the Nazis in the 1930s.

He said he expected to get "criticised" for the comments, but added: "The reality is in the '30s you could stop something before it resulted in a war that killed 40 million people.

"We know what is happening, there is no question that climate is changing… That’s a given. The question is: are we willing to tackle that?

"Consequences will be horrendous if we don’t."

The Archbishop later issued a tweet apologising for the comments which he first made in an interview with the BBC.

He said: “I unequivocally apologise for the words I used when trying to emphasise the gravity of the situation facing us at COP26.

“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.”

Mr Welby had told the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg at the Glasgow summit on Monday that world leaders “will be cursed if they don’t get this right”.

He said: “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 have will have no means of averting it”.

Mr Welby went on to say: “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.”

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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Speaking to ITV News' Julie Etchingham, Mr Welby said the world would have to "fight, fight and fight again" to get agreements to tackle the climate crisis.

He continued: "The next two weeks, I hope, will bring hope and say we are serious.

"That's got to show itself in money and commitment to action, but it won't be enough. So it has to be followed by the most extraordinary continued effort."

Mr Welby also called the government's Budget announcement to cut taxes for domestic flights by 50% an "unusual" decision "when you’re about to lead a major climate conference".

Speaking about the Church of England's goal to divest from fossil fuels by 2023, which some people have been unhappy with the speed of, Mr Welby said: "We believe in engaging with companies that are committed to charities.

"We've put together a coalition that has $30 trillion (£22 trillion) of funds under management to go into the companies and use the votes in the companies to get them put their capital behind new energy research to use their skills in energy distribution and to run down to zero carbon very quickly.


Justin Welby explains why the Church of England is planning to gradually divest from fossil fuels by 2023


"Companies we don't agree with, we divest from, we already have and we'll finish it off (there's about 30 million left) by the beginning of 2023."

He added: "Using our voting power with this coalition, using our convening power we can change the whole industry.

"And we can change the whole commercial world with that kind of convening power and that is much more worth doing."

The archbishop previously said he was attending COP26 to listen to countries most affected by climate change, and to encourage those who are making progress.