Whether or not Rishi Sunak will attend COP27 is “under review”, Downing Street has confirmed – as the PM faces mounting calls to attend the climate conference in Egypt.
Asked if the prime minister will be attending the summit, a Number 10 spokesperson said that “any attendance at COP would depend on progress on preparation for that fiscal event – and that work is ongoing”.
Last week, Downing Street said the PM would not be attending the conference in Sharm el Sheikh next month as he would be preoccupied with “other pressing domestic commitments, including preparations for the autumn budget”.
The spokesperson added: “The prime minister fully recognises the importance of the COP summit and is fully committed to addressing climate change.”
Probed on whether this decision could change, the spokesperson continued: “I think that the prime minister set out that the public would rightly want him to focus on the domestic issues, particularly on restoring fiscal credibility and delivering on a budget that works for the British people.
“There is substantial progress being made on that and so we are keeping the position on COP under review.”
Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to Croydon University Hospital on Friday, Mr Sunak reiterated this, insisting that he must focus on the “depressing domestic challenges” rather than head to the climate conference in Egypt.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Sunak of displaying a “failure of leadership”.
“Britain showing up to work with world leaders is an opportunity to grasp. Not an event to shun,” he posted on social media.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, accused Mr Sunak of not taking climate change “seriously enough”.
While, over the weekend, the president of last year’s summit Alok Sharma suggested the PM risks undermining Britain’s position as a world leader on green issues if he shuns the conference.
“I’m pretty disappointed that the prime minister is not going. I understand that he’s got a huge in-tray of domestic issues that he has to deal with,” the government’s climate tsar told The Sunday Times.
“But I would say that going to COP27 would allow for engagement with other world leaders. And I think it does send a signal – if the prime minister was to go – about our renewed commitment on this issue.”
Mr Sharma, who lost his cabinet seat in the latest reshuffle, will also be there, along with US president Joe Biden and America’s special envoy on climate change, John Kerry.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government last week confirmed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is planning to attend COP27.
“Given the vital importance of governments working together to tackle climate change, it is the first minister’s intention to attend COP27,” the spokesperson said on Friday.
“Details of the ministerial programme are currently being finalised.”
Mr Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had been due to attend the summit which is due to take place from 6 to 18 November.
New Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn budget – in which he will set out his government’s tax and spending plans – will be delivered on 17 November.
It has been reported that former PM Boris Johnson is planning to attend the summit to show his support for international efforts to tackle climate change.
Last week, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey defended Mr Sunak’s decision not to go to COP27, insisting that protecting the planet was “absolutely a priority for the government”.
While former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said the PM was right not to go to the summit, saying: “The cost of living won’t be solved in Sharm el Sheikh where each hotel room for the conference is £2,000 a night.”
But signalling a potential U-turn earlier on Monday, environment minister Mark Spencer told Sky News that Mr Sunak would go to COP27 “if he’s got time”, adding that the prime minister has “an inbox which is full to the brim”.
Meanwhile, on Sunday it was announced that King Charles will host a reception for key COP27 figures at Buckingham Palace on Friday, despite not attending the conference himself.
The King, who has been a passionate campaigner on environmental issues, will host the event which will bring together over 200 international business leaders, decision makers and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to mark the end of the United Kingdom’s presidency of COP26 and look ahead to the COP27 summit in Egypt.
The King has attended the UN climate conference for a number of years and delivered one of the keynote speeches at the opening ceremony for COP26 in Glasgow – but will not be going to Sharm el Sheikh.
Guests at the King’s Buckingham Palace reception will include Mr Sunak, who is expected to speak briefly at the event.
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