New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not attend a major United Nations climate conference next month, the government said Thursday.
Sunak’s office said the decision was based on “pressing domestic commitments” including preparations for an emergency budget on Nov. 17. His absence does not reflect a downgrade in the Conservative government’s commitment to combating climate change, the statement said. Other senior U.K. government ministers are expected to attend.
Sunak took office earlier this week, replacing Liz Truss, who stepped down after a short seven-week term during which her tax-cutting plans sparked economic and political upheaval and roiled markets
Truss had planned to attend the climate conference and her predecessor, Boris Johnson, held a leadership position at the event when the U.K. hosted the Commitment of Parties, or COP26, last year in Glasgow. The meetings have been given increased importance ever since a Paris meeting in 2015 set a guiding, but voluntary, goal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Officials from almost 200 countries will gather for the conference, which will be known as COP27, at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, starting Nov. 6 to discuss how to tackle global warming.
A Sunak spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Britain remained committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, “and to leading international and domestic action to tackle climate change.”
Opposition Labour Party spokesman Ed Miliband said Sunak had made “a terrible decision.”
“These summits matter,” he told the BBC. “They are forcing mechanisms for action on the biggest issue we face as a world.”
The decision also comes as the U.N.’s climate arm laid down fresh challenges for the meeting in the form of three alarming reports published this week. One of them, out Thursday, warned that the world, especially rich nations like Britain and the United States, is weaning itself from fossil fuels too slowly.
Catching up to the Paris goals requires a 45% emissions reduction by 2030, the U.N. says.
Sunak also decided this week that COP26 President Alok Sharma and Climate Change Minister Graham Stuart will no longer attend Cabinet meetings. Both remain in their positions.
Sunak’s record on climate change has been a mixed bag during his time in Parliament and in his few days as leader. He restored a ban on oil and gas
fracking in the U.K. this week that Truss had reversed. But he also told Conservative Party members over his summer leadership campaign that he’ll stop efforts to bring back onshore wind
His new Energy Secretary, Grant Shapps, previously called onshore wind turbines an “eyesore,” Bloomberg reported.
The Associated Press contributed.