The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has apologised for likening the threat posed by the climate crisis to the Nazis, while saying the current generation of political leaders will be “cursed” in history if they fail at the Cop26 summit.
Interviewed by the BBC at the climate change gathering in Glasgow, Welby said the stakes at Cop were so high that for the leaders attending, “in two generations’ time they will be remembered for this fortnight, and probably this fortnight alone”.
He said: “They could have been brilliant in everything else they’ve done, and they will be cursed if they don’t get this right. They could have been rubbish at everything else they’ve done. But if they get this right, the children of today will rise up and bless them in 50 years.”
Questioned about the use of the word “cursed”, Welby – who was an oil industry executive before entering the church – replied: “It was consciously a strong word. It will be: 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 will have no means of averting it.”
Asked if he was arguing that a failure to tackle the climate crisis would be worse than not stopping genocide, Welby said: “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.”
But in a subsequent tweet, Welby wrote: “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.”
In the interview, Welby was asked what sort of commitments he was seeking from the leaders at Cop26, with the archbishop saying that one key thing was providing sufficient money for developing nations.
“All moral thinking starts with the idea that if you’re going to do the right thing, it needs action: money,” he said. “Are they going to reach the amounts of money committed – the $100bn a year – which is a fraction of what was paid out during the great banking crisis, in 2008-9 – are they going to reach the amount of money that actually says we’re serious about this?”