Cop27: Rishi Sunak accused of ‘vacuum of leadership’ as climate summit gets underway

Rishi Sunak has been accused of a “vacuum of leadership”, as he arrives at the make-or-break Cop27 summit to a warning that climate breakdown is now close to being “irreversible”.

The prime minister’s claim to be “at the forefront” of global efforts to avert disaster was ridiculed after his initial refusal to attend the crucial conference – and with “a yawning chasm” between government promises and action.

As he left for Egypt, for one night only, Mr Sunak argued it is still possible to “limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees”, the point above which runaway climate change will be unstoppable.

But the UK was among 165 countries criticised for failing to beef-up promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as leaders agreed to do at Cop26 in Glasgow a year ago.

Mr Sunak will pledge small amounts of cash to help protect rainforests and boost green energy in African countries and to divert existing funding to help poorer countries adapt to the crisis.

But, as The Independent revealed, the government has refused to say if an existing pledge on climate finance is being met – despite Boris Johnson claiming spending will rise to an average of £2.3bn a year.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate change secretary, criticised a “vacuum of leadership” during the UK’s year-long Cop presidency, saying: “I don’t think it has achieved what it should have done.

“Rishi Sunak has sent out a message with his dithering about whether he was going to go and, with some of his policy agenda, that Britain is out of the climate leadership business.”

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “I don’t think there’s been the leadership either from our country or, frankly, from other countries.”

Chris Venables, head of politics at Green Alliance, said: “Rishi Sunak needs to urgently release the finance needed by countries on the frontline of this crisis, unleash renewables like onshore wind to bring down spiralling energy bills, and reject new oil and gas expansion in the North Sea.”

Greenpeace has attacked the government for failing to stump up promised financial help for developing countries and policies that “completely fail to match up to its climate targets”.

“If Sunak wants the UK to be a global climate leader, he needs to rule out new oil and gas drilling, invest in home insulation, and back the demands of developing nations for loss and damage finance,” said UK head of politics Rebecca Newsom.

Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, said: “We’ve seen a yawning chasm between commitments and action.

“The UK government is way off track for meeting its climate targets and it has been ordered by the High Court to rewrite its insufficient net zero strategy.”

As he left London, Mr Sunak said: “The world came together in Glasgow with one last chance to create a plan that would limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.

“The question today is: can we summon the collective will to deliver on those promises? I believe we can.”

But, in Egypt, Cop27 got underway to the gloomy backdrop of a new UN report finding the 1.5C limit for global heating is now “barely within reach” – after the past eight years were the eight hottest ever recorded.

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, warned that “our planet is on course to reach tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible”.

Simon Stiell, the UN climate chief, demanded that the Glasgow promise to beef up CO2-cutting plans be kept, saying he is “looking out” at the 165 countries that had failed to act.

“I will not be a custodian of backsliding,” he said, adding: “We know what must be done by everybody everywhere, every single day, doing everything we possibly can. Colleagues, it’s time to get to work.”

Mr Sunak’s visit comes after the embarrassing U-turn which saw him first plan to skip Cop27 – to concentrate on “domestic” priorities – and after No 10 banned King Charles from attending.

He has also sent Alok Sharma, the respected Cop26 president, into exile, sacking from both his cabinet and his government.

And the UK’s plans to expand North Sea oil and gas production dramatically are in the firing line, with Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, warning against new licences.

In Egypt, where the UK will negotiate alone – rather than as part of the EU bloc – for the first time, Mr Sunak will unveil £65.5m for clean technology projects in developing countries.

And he will “confirm” £150m of funding for tropical forest conservation and restoration work for protecting rainforests and natural habitats, including the Congo Basin and Amazon.

Mr Sunak insisted: “By honouring the pledges we made in Glasgow, we can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and clean growth.

“And we can bequeath our children a greener planet and a more prosperous future. That’s a legacy we could be proud of.”