Sunak criticised for skipping key climate summit

time:2023-06-01 11:34:53 source:CBS News

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of "a failure of leadership" for not attending the COP27 climate summit next month.

Opposition parties and environmental groups said the decision showed the government was not taking the climate crisis seriously enough.

Downing Street said the PM had "other pressing domestic commitments including preparations for the autumn Budget".

Mr Sunak's predecessor Liz Truss had been due to attend the conference.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey told the BBC she was planning to to attend along with the outgoing Alok Sharma, who was president of last year's COP in the UK.

Defending Mr Sunak's decision, Ms Coffey said the "big political moments" tended to happen at the conference every five years - such as last year's summit in Glasgow - and that this year's conference would be more about implementation.

She insisted that "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," she added.

Speaking to LBC, the minister said: "The UK continues to show global leadership as opposed to just a gathering of people in Egypt."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: "Britain showing up to work with world leaders is an opportunity to grasp. Not an event to shun."

The Liberal Democrats also criticised the decision, with leader Sir Ed Davey saying 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".

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

COP27 will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt, from 6 to 18 November - finishing the day after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is due to set out the UK's tax and spending plans.

The annual UN climate summits are designed to help governments agree steps to limit global temperature rises. The UK hosted last year's summit, COP26, in Glasgow and was attended by then-PM Boris Johnson.

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.

On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the BBC that he would like to see both the PM and King Charles in attendance. Now it looks like neither will be there.

Given that the UK government was not just the host of COP26 but the main driving force behind its limited successes, it is unusual that it will not have a major political figure in attendance.

While Alok Sharma will be there as the outgoing COP president, he is not of the same rank as a prime minister or monarch.

The Egyptian organisers will likely be furious at this turn of events - and it will not augur well for the conference if the leaders of one of the world's leading lights in taking action on climate can't prioritise travelling to the gathering.

More than 200 governments have been invited to COP27. However, some leaders of major economies are not expected to attend, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

US President Joe Biden is planning to go, but China has not yet confirmed if its leaders will participate.

Earlier this month, Buckingham Palace confirmed King Charles would not be attending the conference.

The monarch has a long-standing interest in environmental issues, but the Palace said it had sought advice from then-PM Ms Truss and that "with mutual friendship and respect there was agreement that the King would not attend".

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Ms Coffey said: "The government doesn't have a view on whether the King should go" adding that it was "a matter" for him.

The news that Mr Sunak will not be attending comes as a UN report warns there is "no credible pathway" to keep the rise in global temperatures below a key threshold of 1.5C.

Scientists believe that going beyond 1.5C would see dangerous impacts for people all over the world.

On Wednesday, United Nations secretary general António Guterres told the BBC countries must reprioritise climate change or face catastrophe.

Meanwhile, No 10 have confirmed Climate Minister Graham Stuart - who was reappointed to the role in Mr Sunak's reshuffle - will no longer attend cabinet,

Last month, under the Truss premiership, the government announced a review of the UK's target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore was tasked with leading the review "with a focus on ensuring the UK's fight against climate change maximises economic growth, while increasing energy security and affordability for consumers and businesses".

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