Is Rishi Sunak attending COP27? Has Prime Minister U-turned on decision to skip 2022 climate summit

The Prime Minister previously said he would not attend the climate conference in Egypt because he had to focus on dealing with the UK’s challenging economy.

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Rishi Sunak has U-turned on his decision to skip COP27 and will now attend the climate summit in Egypt.

The Prime Minister announced the news on Wednesday (2 November) on Twitter, writing: “There is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change. There is no energy security without investing in renewables. That is why I will attend @COP27 next week: to deliver on Glasgow’s legacy of building a secure and sustainable future.”

It comes after he announced last Friday (28 October) that he would not be attending the United Nations event, due to preparations for the UK’s Autumn Budget. He told reporters during a visit to a hospital in south London that while it was “important” to him to “leave behind an environment that is better for our children and grandchildren”, it was “right” for him to focus on the “depressing domestic challenges we have with the economy.

A spokesperson for Number 10 also commented: “The Prime Minister is not expected to attend COP27 and this is due to other pressing domestic commitments including preparations for the Autumn Budget. The UK will be fully represented by other senior ministers as well as COP President Alok Sharma.”

Rishi Sunak will attend the COP27 climate conference in Egypt. Credit: Getty ImagesRishi Sunak will attend the COP27 climate conference in Egypt. Credit: Getty Images
Rishi Sunak will attend the COP27 climate conference in Egypt. Credit: Getty Images

But this decision prompted widespread criticism, with many fearful that by skipping the climate conference, Sunak was signalling a downgrading of climate change as a government priority. Shadow climate change secretary Ed Milliband told Sky News that it was “a big mistake” and representative of “abdicating leadership”, while former Tory Chancellor George Osborne asked why Sunak would “trash” the party’s record on the environment.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has responded to Sunak’s change of heart, commenting: “Glad to see Sunak’s screeching U-turn on #COP27, but what an embarrassing mis-step on the world stage. Let this be a lesson to him - climate leadership matters. Now, he urgently needs to increase UK ambition on emission reduction targets & pay what we owe to global climate funds.”

Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary, added to the criticism. He remarked: “ The Prime Minister has been shamed into going to COP27 by the torrent of disbelief that he would fail to turn up. His initial instinct tells us all about him: he just doesn’t get it when it comes to the energy bills and climate crisis. Yet again we see a Prime Minister who only makes decisions for reasons of political management not the national interest.”

He went on to claim that Sunak’s decision to attend the summit is to “avoid embarrassment” and not to “provide leadership”, arguing that “if the Prime Minister was really serious, he would commit to Labour’s plans for a zero carbon power system by 2030 [and] to a National Wealth Fund to invest in green jobs and GB Energy - a publicly owned energy generation company to create jobs and wealth in Britain.”

The Prime Minister will join other world leaders such as President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron. King Charles III, a longstanding environmental campaigner, will not attend after Buckingham Palace sought advice from Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss, who had said she planned on attending when she was in office. The advice has not changed under the new Prime Minister, so it is unlikely His Majesty will make an appearance.

Someone who will also be missing from the summit is teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has said she is boycotting the event in Egypt because it is a “scam”. She told an audience in London: "It’s very symbolic that it’s being held in a tourist paradise in a country that violates many basic human rights.”