Sharma turns screw on Sunak over COP27 snub
UPDATE 31 OCT: Rishi Sunak is said to be reviewing his decision to shun the COP27 climate change conference after coming under fire from within his own ranks as well as Opposition parties.
Alok Sharma, who is COP26 president, has warned the Prime Minister that he is putting the Tories’ green credentials at risk by staying away from the meeting of global leaders.
Mr Sharma will lead the UK delegation in Sharm el-Sheikh next week and says voters will not look favourably on the party if it is seen to be downgrading environmental issues.
He told The Sunday Times: “I’m pretty disappointed that the Prime Minister is not going.
“I understand that he’s got a huge in tray of domestic issues that he has to deal with. But I would say that going to COP27 would allow for engagement with other world leaders.
“And I think it does send a signal — if the Prime Minister was to go — about our renewed commitment on this issue.”
Mr Sharma’s comments add to other criticism of the Prime Minister who has said that the UK will be well represented and that his focus must be on the economy. COP27 straddles the run-up to the crucial Autumn Statement.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be attending the COP27, taking place from 6-18 November, to press for the urgent and comprehensive delivery and implementation of the commitments agreed at COP26. SNP MP Deidre Brock said Mr Sunak had shown a “complete failure of leadership” on climate change.
Mr Sharma was demoted from the Cabinet last week but his criticism will be embarrassing for the Prime Minister as it comes from within the higher tiers of his party and from the man who will be speaking for the UK in his absence.
Mr Sharma said: “If you look at what happened in the Australian elections in the past few months, one of the reasons that the conservatives didn’t win through is because people didn’t feel they took this issue seriously enough.”
There is speculation that Boris Johnson is planning to attend the summit in Egypt to show his support for international efforts to tackle climate change. His intentions, reported by The Observer, have caused some concern in Downing Street which sees it as a deliberate attempt by Mr Johnson to continue being seen as a world leader while Mr Sunak remains in the shadows.
King Charles, who was advised not to attend, is now expected to host a pre-summit reception at Buckingham Palace at the end of this week, attended by 200 international experts. Both the Prime Minister and Mr Sharma are expected to attend.
Mr Sunak’s record on environmental issues is patchy. Cuts he imposed In March 2021 as Chancellor led to the abandonment of a £1.5 billion scheme to insulate homes. In October that year, on the eve of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, he announced a plan to halve taxes on domestic flight – a move that would encourage air travel and boost its emissions.
However, he always been enthusiastic about the business world’s role in energy transition. In November 2021, he announced a world-first scheme to force UK-based companies to publish net-zero transition plans, saying the UK “has a responsibility to lead the way” on financing climate action.