London Eye architect Julia Barfield says Sunak’s initial decision not to go was a “huge foreign policy failure”

Industry leaders have called on Rishi Sunak to reverse his previous decision not to attend this year’s United Nations COP climate summit.

The prime minister is now reported to be considering flying to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, next week to attend the conference after saying on Thursday that he would not go due to “other pressing domestic commitments including preparations for the autumn budget”.

The decision was criticised by former cabinet minister Alok Sharma, who is the UK’s COP26 president, and because the UK is the current holder of the COP presidency having hosted the summit in Glasgow last year.

London Eye architect Julia Barfield, one of the co-founders of climate campaign group Architects Declare, said Sunak’s initial announcement that he was not expected to attend the summit was a “huge faux pas”.

“I think it was a huge foreign policy failure and ovbiously now he’s realising that it was…it shows that he doesn’t have climate as a priority and it should be his first priority.”

Barfield added that Sunak’s change of heart, which has followed reports that his predecessor Boris Johnson is considering attending, “doesn’t bode well”.

“If he corrects it, then so much the better but it’s still worrying that he’s only doing it under pressure,” she said.

UK Green Building Council director of communications, policy and places Simon McWhirter said the government’s commitment to its net zero targets “must remain consistent” even in the face of economic challenges such as inflation and rising interest rates.

“Many of the urgent priorities that Rishi Sunak must deal with at home - such as tackling energy security, growing green sectors and combating climate change - all need international negotiation and collaboration. Attending COP27 should therefore be non-negotiable for our Prime Minister,” he said.

“For industry, COP27 is an opportunity to boldly present the collaborative business force behind the sustainable built environment movement in the UK, showing government that we remain committed and champion the growth opportunities which net zero can deliver.”


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Rishi Sunak is under pressure to reverse his previous decision not to go to next week’s COP summit in Egypt

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts said it would “send the right policy signals” if Sunak was present at the summit.

“The political problem with the climate change crisis is that it is always easy to prioritise more pressing concerns, such as the current cost of living emergency,” he said.

“From being the host of COP26 it seems that the UK is sidelining COP27 and if that is the case it would be a dreadful example of short-sightedness.”

And Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry, who has been a longstanding campaigner for a national retrofit strategy to increase the energy efficiency of homes, said “of course” the prime minister should be going to the conference.

“Not doing so sends a signal, abroad and at home, that the UK isn’t willing to show leadership in addressing the climate emergency or in realising the growth opportunities from backing net zero initiatives such as a national retrofit strategy.

“Over the next decade, warmer homes have the potential to create 500,000 jobs, grow the economy by £308bn, slash bills and increase energy security,” Berry added.

The conference will run from 6 to 18 November and is expected to focus on reducing emissions, helping countries prepare for and deal with climate change, and securing technical support for developing countries.

Last year’s summit in Glasgow secured a major agreement on accelerating the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies and phasing down the use of coal.