British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak invoked the late Queen Elizabeth II in a rousing speech calling for immediate action on climate change at a Cop27 reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by King Charles III.
Mr Sunak said recent events show that delivering on the commitments made at last year’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow are “more important than ever”.
He said the war in Ukraine has shown how vital it is for nations to “invest in secure, renewable sources of energy and sustainable food production” and added that every moment climate change is allowed to “ravage our planet” leads to increased human suffering.
Other guests at the gathering included Cop26 president Alok Sharma, US climate envoy John Kerry, chief executive of Bank of America Brian Moynihan and fashion designer Stella McCartney.
The monarch, 73, will not attend the UN climate summit in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh, where world leaders and decision makers are expected to flock before opening day on Sunday.
No 10 Downing Street this week announced Mr Sunak will travel to the gathering after a wave of criticism over his initial decision to skip it.
In his speech to guests in the main ballroom of the palace, Mr Sunak gave a nod to the late Queen Elizabeth when he quoted her speech to delegates at Cop26.
“It is the hope of many that the legacy of this summit written in history books yet to be printed will describe you as the leaders who did not pass up the opportunity, and that you answered the call of those future generations,” he said, repeating the queen’s words.
The prime minister said he “repeatedly” hears a similar call from his two young daughters, who urge him to take action on climate change.
Mr Sunak said recent events have shown that “delivering on the promise of Glasgow is more important than ever”.
“More important because as we have seen so starkly with the war in Ukraine, it is vital to invest in secure, renewable sources of energy and sustainable food production,” he said.
“More important because every moment we allow climate change to ravage our planet, we will see more human suffering like the devastating floods in Pakistan.
“And more important because if we do not act today, we will risk leaving an ever more desperate inheritance for our children.”
The king has long campaigned on environmental issues and last autumn he told the Cop26 talks in Glasgow that the world has had enough of talking and commitments needed to be put into practice.
High-profile figures from the worlds of finance, technology, transport and agribusiness listened to Mr Sunak’s speech.
There were also several government figures in the audience including Therese Coffey, the environment secretary, Grant Shapps, the business secretary, and Kemi Badenock, the international trade secretary.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was also in attendance, alongside Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, while foreign leaders including Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, and Saudi Arabia’s ambassador Prince Khalid bin Bandar also attended. Sir Pascal Soriot, chief executive AstraZeneca, former New York Mayor and business news mogul Mike Bloomberg and yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur whose foundation is working to tackle climate change, were also present.
Fashion figure and sustainability activist Ms McCartney was asked at the reception if it would be a “good idea” for the king to attend Cop27.
“I think it’s good to have him everywhere talking on this subject matter but I don’t think it’s realistic to do so,” she said.
Ms McCartney, who was seen joking and laughing with the monarch, went on to say: “That’s really the beauty of today and the work that King Charles has been doing, he is truly getting the world leaders in business and the world leaders in politics into the same room.
“They’re all here for one reason — people are facing problems, we need solutions and we all have to work together.”
Mr Sharma, who will be handing over the UK’s presidency to Egypt at the summit, has reportedly said he would “welcome” King Charles’s presence at Cop27, while fellow guest Mr Kerry echoed his words, telling Sky News recently it would be “very powerful” if the king were to go to Egypt.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said on Thursday it was now not “logistically feasible” for the king to join the international gathering at the Red Sea resort.
“We do recognise that had the prime minister been in post earlier, the situation might have been different but it is not logistically feasible at this late stage,” she said.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman reiterated there had been “unanimous agreement” with the Conservative government that the king would not travel to Egypt for the summit.
Downing Street acknowledged on Thursday that the king might have been able to join delegates in Egypt if Mr Sunak had been in office earlier in the year.
Mark Carney, the UN special envoy on climate action and finance and leader of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, said the war in Ukraine had made the drive for net zero more difficult.
Mr Carney said the conflict in Eastern Europe made it harder in the short term for countries to meet climate change goals, as they burn coal instead of gas.
But he said that the big decisions made by leaders in the UK, European Union, US and Japan about energy systems “have accelerated the transition towards clean energy”.
He went on to say that Gfanz, made up of leading financial institutions, has the same ambitions and commitments as it did last year. They have committed to “move their financing consistent with this 1.5ºC objective”, he said.
Mr Carney added that since Cop26, the amount of money available to meet the 1.5ºC target has risen by $20 trillion.
“The money is there for the transition, first point. Second is that those financial institutions are making near-term commitments, near-term targets, those are the ones that really matter, at a rate faster than they had committed in Glasgow.”
Mr Sharma was expected to give a valedictory speech at the palace reception. Having lost his Cabinet position in Mr Sunak's reshuffle, he has spent the past week criticising the government's climate stance.
He has argued that the window to limit global warming to 1.5ºC is “closing fast”, and called on the prime minister to step up plans to reduce the UK's emissions.
Expressing doubt over the government's plans to extract more oil and gas from the North Sea amid rising energy prices, he said there is no evidence to suggest the practice was in line with the UK's net-zero commitment.
Members of the public watched outside the palace as guests arrived in Range Rovers, diplomatic cars and zero-emissions vehicles on Friday.
A three-door compact vehicle bearing the River Simple logo was among the hydrogen-powered motors that stood out from the crowd. The vehicles emit only water when in use and have no carbon emissions.
“I think the king is quite strong and he is in a strong position,” Jacob Radola told The National. “The UK has to pressure other countries to do something about climate change.”
Mr Radola was joined by his 5-year-old son Tymoteusz, who proudly sported a red uniform of the King’s Guard and a “bearskin” hat. The little boy’s outfit was a nod to his dream career — to serve as a soldier guarding one of the official royal residences.
Edwin George, Saira Peter and their daughter Anntaniya Edwin made the trip from Maidstone, Kent, to London for the day.
Mr George hailed King Charles’s dedication to saving the planet and said his persistence in urging global powers to take action to reverse the effects of climate change was admirable.
“The king is a lover of the environment,” Mr George said. “He is trying to keep it safe. It’s important now that we move forward on issues.
“It is always important for us to know about the changes happening in the world and to the climate.”