Rishi Sunak told to show UK leadership by attending Cop27

Britain warned it would be playing into Russia's hands by shunning climate summit in Africa

Rishi Sunak attended the Cop26 summit in Glasgow when he was chancellor of the exchequer. AP
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would be playing into Russia’s hands if he skips the Cop27 climate summit, he was told on Monday.

It came as Mr Sunak’s spokesman pushed open the door to a U-turn on attending the Egypt summit.

Mr Sunak’s absence is “under review” and he could attend if the demands of domestic politics allow it, the spokesman said.

Environmentalists accused Mr Sunak of a failure of leadership by declining his invitation only a year after Britain hosted Cop26.

Sir Laurie Bristow, a former British ambassador to Russia and Afghanistan, said on Monday that the UK should be “making the running” on climate action.

“If the UK wishes to be seen as a global leader on matters of global concern, it needs to lead,” he said at a briefing hosted by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

“Cop26 was a success of UK climate diplomacy. It built a strong global consensus on what needs to be done. To sustain that, we need to keep our promises and we need others to do so.”

Camilla Toulmin, an economist at the International Institute for Environment and Development, went further, saying Britain’s absence would undermine its relationships with African countries.

“Britain’s disengagement from Cop27 and Africa more broadly fits only too well into the Russian narrative of the West being fair-weather friends,” she told the same briefing.

“Cop27 isn’t going to wait for Sunak and the UK to turn up. It will happen without us and, more’s the pity, without the King.”

King Charles III campaigned for environmental causes when he was Prince of Wales. AP

Further controversy ensued after it was revealed that King Charles III, a lifelong environmentalist, was advised not to attend the summit.

He will instead host a climate reception at Buckingham Palace on Friday, where Mr Sunak is expected to speak to business leaders.

Defenders of Mr Sunak’s position say there are more pressing concerns at home after he inherited an economic crisis from Liz Truss.

His spokesman said any U-turn on attending Cop27 would depend on progress on the autumn budget statement planned for November 17.

He played down Mr Sunak’s decision to demote Alok Sharma, the UK’s chief negotiator for Cop27, by stripping him of Cabinet rank.

“I think, frankly, the public don’t judge us on the sort of vibes, I think they judge us on our outcomes,” the spokesman said.

Mr Sunak’s supporters also argue that there is no tradition of prime ministers attending every Cop in person.

“We want to field the strongest possible team at Cop, but there are strong pressures on the Prime Minister’s diary,” Cabinet minister Michael Gove told Sky News on Sunday.

The rich world will once again face demands at the summit to do more to protect vulnerable countries, including those in Africa, from climate change they had little role in causing.

Sir Laurie said it was up to Britain and its allies to offer more attractive relationships to African countries than their rivals Russia and China.

“What we’ve now got is the opportunity to show real leadership, not just in the UK, but also with our international partners, including in the global south, to demonstrate what our counter-offer is,” he said.

“What’s the way out of this? It’s to accelerate the carbon transition, not to slow it down.”

Updated: October 31, 2022, 3:55 PM