Sunak COP27 u-turn

Sunak gets the message. Image: HM Treasury

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Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, confirmed he will in fact attend the UN talks in Sharm El Sheikh that start on Sunday.

The Prime Minister has been shamed into going to Cop27 by the torrent of disbelief that he would fail to turn up.

Rishi Sunak has reversed his decision to skip the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt next week, bowing to pressure from activists, his own environment adviser and Boris Johnson.

The Prime Minister accepted there is “no long-term prosperity without action on climate change” as he confirmed he will attend the UN talks in Sharm El Sheikh that start on Sunday.

Read: The first test of leadership is to turn up

Mr Sunak had been declining to go, arguing that he needed to focus on the “depressing domestic challenges” as he worked on the autumn Budget with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

Renewables

Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “It would have been a remarkable own goal for the Prime Minister to miss this year’s UN climate talks as the UK’s own presidency draws to a close, so it’s good that he’s seen sense and decided to attend.

“But simply showing up won’t be enough. The UK government has a lot of work to do to rebuild its climate reputation after a year of rowing back on commitments made in Glasgow.

“The PM quashed plans to revive fracking which was a good start to his tenure. If the UK expects to be taken seriously at the negotiating table, then the government must scrap plans for new oil and gas in the North Sea and say no to the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years.

“These talks must also unblock the vital financial support countries including the UK have promised to communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

“Beyond this, investing in cheap, clean and popular renewables alongside a nationwide insulation scheme to fix our heat-leaking homes must be the focus. This will lower soaring energy bills, cut harmful carbon emissions and help our economy thrive.”

Sustainable

Downing Street said he changed his mind after making “good progress” ahead of the financial statement, but Labour accused the Prime Minister of having been “dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing”.

Cop26 president Alok Sharma, who will be handing over the UK’s presidency to Egypt at the summit, said he is “delighted” about the U-turn, having previously expressed his disappointment.

Mr Sunak announced his attendance the morning after Mr Johnson, one of his predecessors in No 10 and an enduring rival in the Conservative Party, confirmed he will be joining the talks in Egypt.

“There is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change,” Mr Sunak tweeted. “There is no energy security without investing in renewables."

“That is why I will attend @COP27P next week: to deliver on Glasgow’s legacy of building a secure and sustainable future.”

Trip

The Prime Minister has been shamed into going to Cop27 by the torrent of disbelief that he would fail to turn up.

Mr Johnson chose not to publicly criticise Mr Sunak’s initial refusal to attend, but said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday evening that he will be attending to discuss “how we see things in the UK” given he has a “particular interest”.

“I was invited by the Egyptians so I’m very happy to go,” he told Sky News.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted it was good progress on the November 17 autumn Budget that changed Mr Sunak’s mind on attendance.

“We wanted to make sure we were making good progress on the Government’s domestic agenda and the Autumn Statement in particular,” the spokesman said.

“Following discussions with the Chancellor this week, he has now agreed to attend. The Prime Minister feels there is sufficient space to make this trip.”

Phoney

Mr Sharma, who presided over Cop26 in Glasgow last year, welcomed Mr Sunak’s reversal, saying he “completely” agrees with his comments that climate action is required to secure long-term prosperity.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the U-turn was “embarrassing”, arguing that Mr Sunak had to be “dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing”.

It was only on Friday that Mr Sunak was arguing to broadcasters that he was “focusing on the depressing domestic challenges we have with the economy” as he sought to justify not attending.

“I think that’s what people watching would reasonably expect me to be doing as well,” he said.

Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said Mr Sunak had agreed to go “to avoid embarrassment not to provide leadership” and seized on his change in language, saying: “The guy is a phoney.”

Reputation

“The Prime Minister has been shamed into going to Cop27 by the torrent of disbelief that he would fail to turn up,” Mr Miliband added.

“Yet again we see a Prime Minister who only makes decisions for reasons of political management not the national interest.”

The key day for world leaders is Monday, when high-level talks are scheduled, and US President Joe Biden is expected to attend.

Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Glad to see Sunak’s screeching U-turn on #COP27, but what an embarrassing mis-step on the world stage. Let this be a lesson to him – climate leadership matters.”

Friends of the Earth international climate campaigner Rachel Kennerley welcomed Mr Sunak having “seen sense and decided to attend” and urged him to “rebuild” the UK’s climate reputation.

Strike

Despite No 10’s U-turn, the King is still not planning to attend Cop27.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said there is “unanimous agreement” with the Government that it is not right for Charles, a long-standing environmental campaigner, to go.

In Egypt, Mr Sunak will hope to make progress on the commitment to halt deforestation by 2030 and to agree new partnerships on clean and renewable energy, Downing Street said.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman said he would not “pre-empt” conversations when asked if he will raise the imprisonment of British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who is on hunger strike.

“We are working hard to secure Alaa Abdel-Fattah’s release. We are raising his case at the highest levels of the Egyptian government,” the spokesman said.

This Author

Sam Blewett and Emily Beament are reporters with PA. Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

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