The former PM’s plans to attend the climate summit are seen as a snub to Sunak, who is now reportedly considering a volte face by attending the event.
In what would be the first big U-turn of his premiership, Rishi Sunak is now considering attending COP27, if he has time.
Mark Spencer, the farming minister, hinted at a U-turn, saying Sunak would attend the summit if “he’s able to get through” his other work.
“Only he will know what he’s got in his inbox and in his diary,” the minister told Sky News,” pointing to the 17 November autumn budget as the prime minister’s priority.
Hope was raised that the new prime minister might take climate change more seriously than his predecessor, when he announced he would uphold the Tory 2019 manifesto commitment to keep a ban in place on fracking.
However, last week Downing Street confirmed that Sunak would not attend the COP27 climate summit that is taking place in Egypt from November 6 to 18, despite the PM’s pledges to prioritise the environment. A spokesperson for the prime minister said he had “other pressing domestic commitments,” namely to concentrate on the UK’s economic statement. Downing Street had also confirmed that King Charles had been advised not to attend the COP27 climate summit.
Outpour of anger
His decision to pull out of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, prompted an outpour of anger and criticism from around the world and at home.
Sharing his dismay with the Guardian, Carlos Fuller, Belize’s ambassador to the UN, said: “It seems they are washing their hands of leadership.”
“I can understand why the King was asked not to attend – keeping him out of the fray. However, as the principal UK policymaker and the COP26 president, the PM should have led the summit.”
Mohamed Nasheed, speaker of the Maldives parliament and former president, said: “[It’s] very worrying that the UK thought there was anything more serious than climate change. You can count the pennies but might lose the pounds.”
In the UK, Labour quickly shared criticism of the PM’s decision not to go to the climate crisis summit.
Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary of state for the environment and net zero, said: “Rishi Sunak is absent when it comes to the climate crisis. If even the former prime minister is attending COP27, it is just further evidence of his colossal failure of leadership.
“The prime minister’s decision to pull out of COP27 shows he doesn’t care about the greatest long-term threat our country faces. The government is way off track from its climate targets, and has a deeply unambitious net zero agenda, with plans to cut the cheapest, cleanest forms of power like onshore wind.
“A Labour government would lead at home and abroad, putting climate at the heart of our agenda for a fairer, greener future with lower bills and energy independence for the UK through our plans for clean power by 2030 and GB Energy to make us a clean energy superpower.”
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, saying it shows he does not take the crisis “seriously enough”
Boris Johnson could attend
Twisting the knife in further were reports over the weekend that Boris Johnson is intending to go the event. The Observer reported that a number of sources had said the former PM is intending to visit the summit in Egypt to show his ‘solidarity with the battle against the climate crisis.’
Johnson’s involvement with the Summit could be seen as an attempt to boost his profile following the dramatic desertion of his so-called ‘political comeback’ last week, amid criticism towards Rishi Sunak for not attending.
Suggestions that Sunak could attend after all have aroused suspicion that he may be doing so, partly, because his rival Boris Johnson is considering going.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
Image credit: Chris McAndrew-Creative Commons