Rishi Sunak U-turns on COP27 attendance following days of pressure

The prime minister had earlier said he was too busy focusing on the UK economy to attend the climate summit next week. Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak has confirmed he will attend the COP27 climate conference next week in a U-turn move after earlier insisting "pressing domestic challenges" were his main focus.

Following days of mounting pressure on the prime minister - and after Boris Johnson confirmed that he would be attending - Mr Sunak rowed back on his decision on Wednesday morning.

Though his change of heart was welcomed, opposition MPs called the U-turn "embarrassing" and accused him of being "shamed" into going.

The prime minister said "there is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change" and there is "no energy security without investing in renewables", as he confirmed his attendance.

His earlier insistence that he was too busy focusing on the UK economy during his first weeks in office to attend the United Nations summit in Egypt had sparked a backlash in the Tory ranks.

No 10 had previously said Mr Sunak was preparing for the upcoming Autumn Budget with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and that the UK would be represented at the summit by other senior ministers.

The annual UN climate summits are designed to help governments agree steps to curb global temperature rises. The UK hosted COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, which Mr Sunak attended as the then-chancellor.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey added fuel to the fire defending Mr Sunak by arguing that the conference in Sharm El-Sheikh is not one of the “big political summits” - despite world leaders like Joe Biden expected to attend - as she described it as “just a gathering of people in Egypt”.

Piling further pressure on Mr Sunak, former PM Johnson revealed on Tuesday night that he would be attending the event telling Sky News he was "invited by the Egyptians so I’m very happy to go".

Though Mr Johnson did not publicly criticise Mr Sunak’s initial refusal to attend, he said he will be attending to discuss “how we see things in the UK” given he has a “particular interest”.

Outgoing COP26 president Alok Sharma said he was “delighted” at the PM's U-turn after the Tory MP earlier said he was “disappointed” over his planned failure to attend.

Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted that she was "glad to see Sunak's screeching U-turn on #COP27" but called it an "embarrassing mis-step on the world stage".

"Let this be a lesson to him - climate leadership matters. Now he urgently needs to increase UK ambition on emission reduction targets & pay what we owe to global climate funds," she added.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said it was "embarrassing" that the PM had been “dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing”, while Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband called Mr Sunak a “phoney”.

“Rishi Sunak is going to avoid embarrassment not to provide leadership," Mr Miliband added in a statement.

“His initial instinct tells us about all about him: he just doesn't get it when it comes to the energy bills and climate crisis.

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

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Labour again called on Mr Sunak to commit to the party's proposals of a publicly owned UK energy company to create more jobs and cut energy bills, as well as more investment in green jobs and a zero carbon power system by 2030.

Liberal Democrat climate change spokeswoman Wera Hobhouse said: “This whole debacle has shown the environment is simply not a priority for Rishi Sunak. He’s only going after being embarrassed by Boris Johnson’s attendance.

“We need action rather than just attendance from the Prime Minister.

“Building more renewables, the cheapest and most popular form of energy and insulating our cold and draughty homes will accelerate progress towards net zero, cut energy bills and increase the UK’s energy security.”