British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not attend a major United Nations climate conference that begins in Egypt next month, his office said on Thursday, with other senior ministers going instead to allow him to focus on domestic issues and a major fiscal statement.
Sunak became prime minister on Tuesday, and has delayed an autumn fiscal statement to Nov. 17, as he looks to tackle a cost-of-living crisis and restore international economic credibility damaged in the short tenure of his predecessor Liz Truss.
She had been expected to attend the conference known as COP27, but on Thursday Sunak’s Downing Street office said the new prime minister was not planning to go to the summit.
Officials from almost 200 countries are due to gather in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, starting Nov. 6 to discuss how to tackle global warming at the summit. Britain hosted last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which was attended by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“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.
The spokesperson said that Britain remained “absolutely committed to supporting COP27 and leading international action to tackle climate change and protect nature.”
Britain trumpeted the agreement of the Glasgow Climate Pact, finalized in dramatic circumstances after months of arduous negotiations that ran until the final minutes. The deal was meant to ensure that the world still has a chance to avert the worst impacts of global warming.
“The U.K. 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.”
The opposition Labour Party criticized Sunak’s decision to skip the summit, with its climate change policy spokesperson calling it a “big mistake.”
“It’s not leadership. It is abdicating leadership not to go,” Ed Milliband told Sky News, adding that it was right to “go hard and fast on clean energy” for Britain’s climate commitments, energy security and jobs.
Sunak has told world leaders he has spoken to in his first week in charge that he does intend to go to the leaders summit of G-20 in Indonesia, which occurs a few days before the autumn statement.
The autumn statement will detail spending cuts and medium-term fiscal forecasts as the finance ministry seeks to plug a budget shortfall of as much as 40 billion pounds ($46.28 billion).