Downing Street has said that Rishi Sunak remains “absolutely committed” to supporting the COP27 climate conference, after it emerged that the new Prime Minister will not be attending the event in Egypt next month.
Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had been planning to attend the UN climate summit in November, but the new PM has pulled out of attending, citing “domestic commitments” ahead of the Autumn Budget. Downing Street also confirmed that climate minister Graham Stuart will no longer be attending Cabinet.
The move has caused some to question the government’s commitment to climate action, a year since the UK hosted COP26 in Glasgow. It comes after King Charles III was reportedly prevented from attending the summit by Truss.
Why is Rishi Sunak not attending COP27?
A No 10 spokeswoman said that Rishi Sunak would not be travelling to the conference at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in November, in part due to preparations for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Budget, which has been pushed back to 17 November. COP27 takes place from 6 to 18 November - finishing the day after Hunt is due to set out the UK's tax and spending plans.
She told reporters: “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.”
Downing Street said the Prime Minister remains “absolutely committed” to supporting COP27, and denied that the decision to skip the global meeting signalled a downgrading of climate change as a priority.
The spokeswoman said: “It is a recognition of other pressing domestic commitments, not least preparations for the Autumn Budget. We remain committed to net zero and to leading international and domestic action to tackle climate change. The UK is forging ahead of many other countries on net zero.
She added: “We will obviously continue to work closely with Egypt as the hosts of COP27 and to make sure that all countries are making progress on the historic commitments they made at the Glasgow climate pact.”
It was also confirmed this week that Sharma also lost his seat around Sunak’s new Cabinet table.
On Friday 28 October, the new Prime Minister explained why he wasn’t attending saying he must focus on the “depressing domestic challenges”. Speaking to reporters during a visit to a south London hospital, Sunak said: “The leadership that we have shown on the climate is unmatched almost along the world.
“It’s important to me that, as Prime Minister, we leave behind an environment that is better for our children and grandchildren. I’m very passionate about that. I’m very personally committed to it. I just think, at the moment, it’s right that I’m also focusing on the depressing domestic challenges we have with the economy. I think that’s what people watching would reasonably expect me to be doing as well.”
What’s the reaction been?
Labour’s climate change secretary Ed Miliband said Sunak’s decision not to attend COP27 was “a big mistake”. He told Sky News: “It’s abdicating leadership not to go to COP27. We were the president of COP26, and for those people who are watching thinking, yes climate is important but there are other issues, actually if we go hard and fast on clean energy, it isn’t just right for our climate targets, it’s right for cutting energy bills (because renewables are now the cheapest source of power), it’s right for energy security, it’s right for jobs.
“So this isn’t just wrong on climate grounds, it’s wrong when it comes to energy bills, security and employment too.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas said that Sunak’s decision was “shameful”. The former leader of the Green Party tweeted: “The first test of leadership is to turn up. The new PM's decision not to attend COP27 makes a mockery of any Government claims on continued climate leadership - and what a shameful way to end the UK's COP Presidency.”
While Conservative former culture secretary Nadine Dorries said Sunak is “wrong” not to attend the Sharm El-Sheikh summit, saying global heating is the “biggest crisis facing our planet”. While Environment Secretary Therese Coffey sought to defend the new PM by arguing he will show “global leadership” rather than attending “just a gathering of people in Egypt”. She added: “It is quite standard practice that every five years is the big political gathering.”
Which world leaders will be at COP27?
Representatives from more than 200 governments have been invited to the summit in Egypt. Among the world leaders in attendance will be US President Joe Biden.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is not expected to attend, given the ongoing war in Ukraine, and China has yet to confirm if its leaders will be there. Last year in Glasgow, China took part in the talks, but President Xi Jinping was not in attendance.
COP27 is expected to focus on three main areas: reducing emissions, helping countries prepare for and deal with climate change, and securing technical support for developing countries for these activities.