Despite the new Prime Minister promising to prioritise the environment, Downing Street has announced Rishi Sunak will not be attending COP27

COP27 is to take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November – designed to help governments agree on steps to limit global temperature rises in the UN.

As the UK hosted last year’s summit, COP26, in Glasgow, which was attended by then-PM Boris Johnson, it is expected of British politicians to attend to play their country’s part in curbing the climate crisis – especially given their status as high emitters.

The summit in Egypt 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.

Downing Street said the PM had “other pressing domestic commitments including preparations for the autumn Budget”, as COP27 is finishing the day after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is due to set out the UK’s tax and spending plans.

Mr Sunak does not take climate change “seriously enough”

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said the move suggests Mr Sunak does not take climate change “seriously enough”.

Rishi Sunak was accused of “a failure of leadership”

While Rishi Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had been due to attend the conference, neither will be attending due to “other pressing domestic commitments”.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey defended Sunak’s lack of appearance, stating “big political moments” happen at the conference every five years, like last year’s summit in Glasgow, and that this year’s conference would be more about implementation.

She furthered by saying: “protecting the planet is absolutely a priority for the government. 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.”

“Protecting the planet is absolutely a priority for the government”

The environment sector had been hoping Sunak would take the climate crisis more seriously than Truss. Some positive signals came early this week when he announced he would uphold the ban on fracking, a commitment made in the 2019 Tory manifesto.

While the autumn budget is one of Sunak’s top priorities, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister stated the government remained “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. 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.”

What is the importance of his attendance?

The Liberal Democrats criticised the PM’s decision, with leader Sir Ed Davey stating: it “flies in the face of the UK’s proud tradition of leading the world in our response to the climate change”.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the decision made “a mockery of any government claims on continued climate leadership”.

Hugh Blaza, senior consultant at Sandstone Law, commented: “He cannot be serious! As the newly anointed head of a G20 nation, there can be no excuses for Rishi Sunak not attending COP27 in Egypt. The leading countries of the world have to set an example in adopting and furthering the Paris treaty. The world is teetering on the brink of disaster as achieving the 1.5 degree target seems to be looking increasingly unlikely.

“Of course, the UK is by no means alone in not coming up with the goods. And with the Courts ruling that the government’s net zero carbon strategy is unlawful, there is a lot of ground to recover. But the UK Government has spent the last four months embroiled in internal wrangling. The result of all this is that the electorate hasn’t been given the opportunity to review all of the parties’ manifestos, and so no-one has the foggiest idea what Government policy will be on environmental, or many other issues, let alone vote on them! Frack or no frack, anyone? Solar or gas? Wind or coal?  It may actually not be that surprising that Sunak won’t attend; what would he have to say..? The time for glib platitudes is over.

“And time is running out. Never has there been a moment where clarity and commitment are needed. We can but hope that the partially defenestrated Alok Sharma (freed, perhaps, from cabinet responsibility) will be able to adopt the commitments required of the first world countries. Whether this Government will commit to them and implement them is, of course, another matter.”


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