Boris Johnson told world leaders they need to be as heroic as British fictional icon James Bond in the fight against runaway climate change.
Addressing the opening session of Cop26 in Glasgow, he said that younger generations will “not forgive us” if leaders do not take their chance to deliver at the summit.
Cop26 must herald the beginning of the end of efforts to tackle climate change, the UK Prime Minister said, as he told world leaders: “let’s get to work”.
He invoked the spirit of the fictional spy and compared the planet’s predicament to that of “007" being “strapped to a doomsday device”.
Bond “generally comes to the climax of his highly lucrative films strapped to a doomsday device, desperately trying to work out which coloured wire to pull to turn it off, while a red digital clock ticks down remorselessly to a detonation that will end human life as we know it”.
“We are in roughly the same position, my fellow global leaders, as James Bond today — except that the tragedy is this is not a movie and the doomsday device is real,” Mr Johnson said.
US President Joe Biden said the “eye of history” was on the meeting, as he called for transformative action.
“Glasgow must be the kick-off of a decade of ambition and innovation to preserve our shared future,” he said.
“Climate change is already ravaging the world. It’s not hypothetical. It’s not a hypothetical threat. It is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods, and doing it every single day.”
Mr Johnson urged political leaders and delegates at the opening ceremony of the world leaders summit at the UN climate conference to move from debate to concerted, real action. He said it was “one minute to midnight” on the climate doomsday clock.
The summit featured the sound of bagpipes and young climate activists from the developing world.
“If summits alone solve climate change then we wouldn’t have needed 25 previous Cop summits to get where we are today. But while Cop26 will not be the end of climate change it can and it must mark the beginning of the end,” Mr Johnson said.
He called for action on phasing out coal-generated power, protecting and restoring forests, providing finance for countries to tackle climate change and increasing the number of electric vehicles.
“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,” Mr Johnson said.
World leaders and other prominent figures will address the two-week summit in the coming days, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres following Mr Johnson.
He criticised “a deficit of credibility and a surplus of confusion” over emissions reduction and net-zero targets, which held “different meanings and different metrics”.
Mr Guterres said that already the “sirens are sounding” and “our planet is telling us something”.
Britain's Prince Charles told the summit that the Covid-19 pandemic “has shown us just how devastating a global cross-border threat can be".
“Climate change and biodiversity loss are no different — in fact, they pose an even greater existential threat, to the extent that we have to put ourselves on what might be called a war-like footing.”
He told the leaders the “eyes and hopes of the world” are on them to act fast because “time has quite literally run out”.
Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough told Cop26 that the motivation for tackling climate change should “not be fear, but hope”.
Mr Johnson is pledging an extra £1 billion ($1.37bn) in climate finance by 2025 to support developing countries if the economy grows as forecast and the UK’s international aid budget returns to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product.
The UK government has been criticised for cutting its aid budget.
Before the Cop26 summit, a report revealed that developed countries would not reach the $100bn a year goal promised for poorer countries, to help them develop cleanly and cope with climate effects with public and private finance, until 2023.
The UK doubled its promised climate aid to £11.6bn over five years in 2019 and the new announcement would bring that to £12.6bn if delivered.
The UN has warned countries that plans to cut climate-warming emissions in the next decade are not enough to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Temperatures rising above that could lead to increasingly severe extreme weather, rising seas and damage to crops, health and wildlife.
“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change,” Mr Johnson said. “It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now.
“If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow.
More than 120 leaders are set to attend the summit, where countries are under pressure to deliver the financial support for poorer countries least responsible for, but most vulnerable to, climate change.
There will also be attempts to finalise parts of the Paris climate accord agreed to in 2015 to make it effective and operational.
Observers had hoped a weekend meeting in Rome of leaders of the G20 nations, which between them emit nearly 80 per cent of global carbon emissions, would give a strong impetus to Cop26, which was postponed for a year due to the pandemic.
The G20 major economies committed on Sunday to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the most ambitious target of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
They also agreed to end funding for new unabated coal plants abroad — those whose emissions have not gone through any filtering process — by the end of 2021.
But this did not convince NGOs, the British prime minister or the United Nations.
“While I welcome the G20's recommitment to global solutions, I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled — but at least they are not buried,” Mr Guterres said on Twitter.
“We've inched forward [at the G20]. We've put ourselves in a reasonable position for Cop in Glasgow but it's going to be very difficult in the next few days,” Mr Johnson said on Sunday.
“If Glasgow fails, then the whole thing fails.”
The Glasgow gathering, which runs until November 12, comes as an accelerating onslaught of extreme weather events across the world underscores the devastating effects of climate change from 150 years of burning fossil fuels.
Cop26 marks the “last, best hope to keep 1.5°C in reach”, summit president Alok Sharma said as he opened the meeting on Sunday.