Rishi Sunak will not attend the COP27 climate change summit in Egypt, Downing Street has confirmed, as the new UK prime minister prioritises “domestic commitments” ahead of next month’s Autumn Statement.
His predecessor Liz Truss had been expected to attend the summit, which will be held November 6 to 18 in Egypt and bring together world leaders in an attempt to co-ordinate unified action on climate change.
The UK, which hosted last year’s meeting in Glasgow, retains the COP presidency until the incoming Egyptian team takes over at the start of the summit.
Downing Street said Sunak would be unable to attend because of “pressing domestic commitments”, notably preparations for the government’s long-awaited debt-cutting plan, originally scheduled for next week but will now take place on November 17.
During Sunak’s first cabinet meeting earlier this week he outlined efforts to place “economic stability” at the heart of his government as he confirmed the fiscal event planned for October 31 would be pushed back. It will now take the form of an Autumn Statement accompanied by a full forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility.
UK COP president Alok Sharma is expected to lead negotiations on behalf of the UK in Egypt next month although he was removed from attending cabinet when Sunak took over as prime minister on Tuesday. Downing Street also confirmed that Graham Stuart, the UK’s climate minister, would lose his right to attend cabinet meetings.
Green groups were dismayed Sunak would not attend the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, although they welcomed his decision earlier this week to reinstate the ban on fracking for shale gas that Truss had overturned.
The decision not to attend COP27 suggested “that the new prime minister neither takes the climate crisis seriously enough, nor recognise[d] the opportunities for Britain to take a leadership role in helping to solve it”, said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK.
The opposition Labour party accused the government of a “massive failure of climate leadership”. Ed Miliband, shadow climate change secretary said: “We were the COP26 hosts and now the UK prime minister isn’t even bothering to turn up to COP27.”
He added: “What Rishi Sunak obviously fails to understand is that tackling the climate crisis isn’t just about our reputation and standing abroad, but the opportunities for lower bills, jobs, and energy security it can deliver at home.”
Sunak on Thursday said he had spoken to EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, with whom he had “much in common, not least the challenges we are facing with the economy and climate change”.
Downing Street stressed the government remained “committed” to its net zero targets and to “leading international and domestic action to tackle climate change”.
“The UK will be fully represented by other senior ministers as well as COP president Alok Sharma,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
“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.”
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