The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised after saying failure to act on climate change would result in a worse “genocide” than that committed by the Nazis.

In a BBC interview at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, Justin Welby went as far as saying leaders will be “cursed” if they don’t reach agreement on climate change in the next fortnight.

He said failure to act would allow “a genocide on an infinitely greater scale” than what was committed during the Holocaust.

He told the BBC. “They [current world leaders] 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.”

Asked about the use of “cursed”, he said that it was deliberate. “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.”

“That’s very strong language,” offered BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, noting that he was “saying failure to act on climate change would be worse than people allowing genocide to happen” – perhaps giving an opportunity to backtrack. But the head of the Church of England doubled down:

“It will allow a genocide on an infinitely greater scale,” he replied, “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.”

In a tweet, Justin Welby said he was sorry for “offence caused to Jews”.

The apology by the archbishop read, “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.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the comments: “It is up to individuals how they choose to frame the problem.”

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