Home Trending Global anger at Sunak’s Cop27 snub that raises fears over UK’s climate crisis stance

Global anger at Sunak’s Cop27 snub that raises fears over UK’s climate crisis stance

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Global anger at Sunak’s Cop27 snub that raises fears over UK’s climate crisis stance

Rishi Sunak’s decision to snub the Cop27 UN climate talks, and to keep King Charles from attending, has angered and upset countries around the world, risking the UK’s standing on the world stage and raising concerns over his government’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis.

Several developing countries told the Guardian of their dismay. Carlos Fuller, Belize’s ambassador to the UN, said: “I can understand why the king was asked not to attend – keeping him out of the fray. However, as the principal UK policymaker and the Cop26 president, the PM should have led the summit.

“It seems as if they are washing their hands of leadership.”

Sunak’s reason for not going – to concentrate on the UK’s economic statement – was questioned. Mohamed Nasheed, speaker of the Maldives parliament and former president, said: “[It’s] very worrying that the UK thought there was anything more serious than climate change. You can count the pennies but might lose the pounds.”

Developed countries were also concerned. One senior government aide said: “It appears as if the new UK prime minister wants to wash his hands of the previously strong role the government played on international climate action. It’s another stab in the back for [Cop26 president Alok] Sharma.”

The Cop26 talks in Glasgow last November, headed by Boris Johnson and chaired by cabinet minister, Alok Sharma, ended with a global consensus on limiting temperature rises to 1.5C for the first time, a major diplomatic achievement that was widely lauded. Sunak attended and led discussions on climate finance, likely to be a major issue at Cop27.

Instead of attending Cop27, Sunak will speak at a reception for business and environmental leaders to be hosted by the king at Buckingham Palace this Friday, two days before Cop27 begins. But his failure to attend the talks has raised concerns over the UK’s stance on the climate crisis, with the government handing out new oil and gas licences and tax breaks for increasing fossil fuel production.

Sunak could also be upstaged in his absence by his former boss: the Observer revealed that Johnson hopes to attend the Cop27 summit, following the precedent set by formers leaders including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

One Commonwealth diplomat said: “For all Boris Johnson’s ills, no one can reasonably accuse him of ignoring or not prioritising climate action. The UK has benefited from the leadership of Alok Sharma and Lord Goldsmith.

“One hopes [Sunak’s stance] is not a backsliding of the positions the UK has taken in recent years on both areas.”

It is unusual for the head of state of an important Cop not to attend the handover. After convening the landmark Paris agreement of 2015, French president François Hollande was warmly received at the following UN climate Cop, in Marrakech.

The UK still holds the presidency of the UN negotiations, until the reins are handed over to the Egyptian government at the Cop27 summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. This puts the British government in a key position in the long-running climate talks, and the prime minister would normally be expected to hold closed-door bilateral meetings with counterparts around the world, focusing on the climate but including other subjects, such as the Ukraine war and the global economic crisis.

Rachel Kyte, a former senior World Bank official who is now dean of the Fletcher school at Tufts University in the US, and a close observer of Cops, said the war in Ukraine and the UK’s geopolitical relations were also key reasons to go.

“A lot of the world is sitting on the sidelines, impacted by the war but not throwing in its lot with our defence of values in Ukraine,” she said. “We need to be with them on what is important for them if we want them with us on what is important for us. You can’t build relationships unless you turn up.”

Leaders including Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Emmanuel Macron of France, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and UN secretary-general, António Guterres, will play key roles at Cop27. There is a question mark over US president Joe Biden, who faces midterm elections, but his special envoy John Kerry will be at the talks throughout.

The Egyptian government voiced “disappointment” at Sunak’s decision.

Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser now with the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington DC, pointed to a global failing by right-wing leaders on the climate crisis. “No priority is more important than climate change, which is a meltdown of the actual world, not just the vanity of Tory politics,” he said. “Conservative governments around the world, especially America’s radical Republican party, have got to get their heads out of the sand.”

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