On second thoughts, UK PM Rishi Sunak may attend COP27 in Egypt
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could still attend the COP27 climate summit in Egypt if sufficient progress is made on preparations for the autumn Budget, Downing Street has said on Monday.
“The prime minister is focused on pressing domestic issues, most significantly preparing for the autumn statement, so any attendance at Cop would depend on progress on preparation for that fiscal event, and that work is ongoing.” Sunak’s official spokesman said.
“The prime minister fully recognises the importance of the COP summit and is fully committed to addressing climate change,” he added.
Earlier on Thursday, the prime minister’s office said he was not expected to attend “due to other pressing domestic commitments.” Sunak was named prime minister on October 24, and has postponed an autumn fiscal statement to November 17 as he looks to tackle a cost-of-living crisis and restore credibility damaged in the short tenure of his predecessor Liz Truss.
However, on Monday the prime minister’s official spokesman further said that this position was “under review.”
Alok Sharma, UK’s COP26 president, is among those saying Sunak should go.
The UK is the current holder of the COP presidency, after hosting the summit in Glasgow in 2021. For this year, Egypt has been selected to host the COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will take place in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on November 6-18.
Sharma will hand over the presidency to Egypt at the COP27 summit.
UK Environment Minister Mark Spencer told BBC that Sunak had “a huge inbox”, with challenges including the economy and rising global energy and food prices.
“His focus at the moment is dealing with the autumn statement and the government’s response to those global challenges,” Spencer said.
“I’m sure if his diary allows he would want to go but at this moment in time don’t quite know if he’s going to be have time to do that.” he added.
Backlash and calls for attending COP27
Sunak has faced criticism from opposition parties, environmental groups and some Conservatives, after Thursday statement that said he was not expected to attend the summit.
Liberal Democrat climate spokeswoman Wera Hobhouse urged Sunak to “immediately confirm his attendance”, adding: “It shouldn’t take Boris Johnson going to COP to embarrass Rishi Sunak into doing the right thing.”
There are reports that say UK former prime minister Johnson, who attended the Glasgow summit when he was prime minister, could go to Egypt for this year’s event.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said it was “absolutely so wrong” that Sunak was not going, as the UK is still COP president, adding: “Symbols matter.”
At the weekend Sharma, who was recently demoted from cabinet, told the Sunday Times he was “pretty disappointed” when he heard that Sunak was not expected to go, saying his attendance would signal the UK’s “renewed commitment on this issue.”
On Monday, the government’s most senior environmental advisers, including influential climate experts Lord Stern and Laurence Tubiana, called Sunak for attending the conference, saying it presented “an opportunity… to restore the trust and confidence of the international community in Global Britain.”
King Charles, who is a longstanding champion of environmental issues, will not attend after Buckingham Palace sought advice from former prime minister Liz Truss and agreed he would not go in person. The advice has not changed under new Prime Minister Sunak.
A Reception to look ahead to COP27 in Egypt
However, the monarch will host a reception at Buckingham Palace on November 4, on the eve of the conference, gathering 200 international business leaders, decision makers and charities to mark the end of the UK’s COP presidency and look ahead to the summit in Egypt.
Sunak will “say a few words” at the event, which will also be attended by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.
World Leaders who confirm coming to COP27 So Far
U.S. President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon are all due to attend.