Earlier this week, Rishi Sunak, the newly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, opted out of attending the 27th Conference of Parties, the climate conference that nearly 200 countries are attending this November. A spokesperson of Sunak stated that “the Prime Minister is not expected to attend the summit in Egypt due to other pressing domestic commitments, including preparations for the autumn statement.” Prior to Sunak’s withdrawal, King Charles III was also expected to drop out of climate talks after being advised by former Prime Minister Liz Truss not to go. Sunak upheld this recommendation.
This is a clear and present failure of leadership. Sunak and King Charles’ refusal to attend COP27 perfectly demonstrates how little climate change is valued in developed countries’ policy and political affairs. Any involvement, including of the British monarchy through King Charles, would have been a crucial demonstration of leadership and value. Furthermore, Charles is well-known for his love of the environment; it’s unfortunate that he will not step up when the world needs him most.
As temperatures rise and world leaders fail to develop lasting solutions to these urgent and complex climate issues, we need to shine a light on the consequences of their actions.
The primary failure is that many Western leaders treat climate change like a secondary matter. It’s not. 2021 was the sixth-warmest year on record. More than 1 million species are at risk of extinction by climate change. Higher temperatures worsen air quality, negatively affect crop production, increase the spread of infectious diseases and threaten freshwater deposits. Additionally, wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters only intensify as global temperatures become more irregular. Climate change also significantly harms coastal communities and people in less-developed countries disproportionately because of their geographic locations and high dependence on natural resources, respectively. Climate change should be everyone’s number one priority.
The United Kingdom was still supposed to be represented by other senior officials at the Conference of Parties. However, the fact that the prime minister and the monarchy proposed not attending is a slap in the face to all officials who do care. And the international community took notice.
After Sunak’s announcement, Greta Thunberg, a famed environmentalist, called out Sunak’s decision to skip the conference and said “the fact that one of the most powerful people in the world doesn’t have time for this, it’s very symbolic and says that they may have other priorities … which of course can be understandable, but as long as we use these excuses we won’t get anywhere.”
Last year, Sunak was one of the many Cabinet members at COP26. This year, his original statement not to attend and his choice to restrict King Charles is one that will be remembered in history.
After facing major backlash, Sunak reversed his decision and is now attending COP27, but the fact that he initially announced not attending the conference highlights his government’s misguided climate priorities. Even during one of the COP meetings, Sunak left after being rushed away by aides. In order to accomplish any substantive progress, COP negotiations need voluntary and active participation from every prominent world leader, including Sunak. Otherwise, the Conference of Parties is pointless.
Rishi Sunak, you can’t avoid climate change. You can’t run away from the major global warming crisis. Regardless of what you may personally believe, climate change should be every country’s number one priority. If you refuse to attend the Conference of Parties, and neglect discussing global warming and your country’s impact on climate change as a major world power, your government represents the biggest threat to a sustainable and secure future.
Global warming affects our economies, people, agriculture, businesses and weather, among almost every other thing that allows every person on this earth to survive. Right now, more than ever, we need our world leaders to show up and participate in the matter that we care about. Right now, we need climate action.