New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not attend the U.N. COP27 global climate summit, his government announced Thursday, as it cited “pressing domestic commitments” that require attention.
“The Prime Minister is not expected to attend the summit in Egypt due to other pressing domestic commitments, including preparations for the autumn statement,” a Downing Street spokesperson said, adding that Britain remained “absolutely committed to supporting COP27 and leading international action to tackle climate change.”
Sunak will spend his time tackling a budget crisis and seeking economic stability and credibility after the British economy fell into turmoil under his predecessor Liz Truss, who had planned to attend the summit had she stayed on as prime minister. He delayed the release of the planned autumn budget, which is in need of an overhaul.
The government said Sunak must prepare for an emergency budget on Nov. 17 and stressed that this decision does not represent a change in commitment to fight climate change.
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“The UK will be fully represented by other senior ministers, as well as COP President Alok Sharma,” the spokesperson said. “They will be working to ensure that countries continue to make progress on the ground-breaking commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow.”
Labour Party leadership criticized Sunak’s decision, calling it a “big mistake” that is “abdicating leadership.”
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Ed Milliband, the Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change, said the U.K. needed to “go hard and fast on clean energy.”
Sunak’s decision follows on the heels of an announcement that King Charles III, who as the Prince of Wales made climate a priority, would not attend the conference as he felt it was not the “right occasion” for him to do so, The Guardian reported.
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The king, who took the throne last month following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, had initially decided not to attend at the advice of then-Prime Minister Truss, and Sunak’s spokesperson said there was no change in policy from the previous administration.
Charles addressed the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, but at the time he was still in his role as the Prince of Wales, which afforded him greater freedom to pursue causes as he chose.
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The Downing Street spokesperson stressed that Sunak will attend the G20 summit in Indonesia in mid-November, just days before the release of the Autumn budget.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.