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Rishi Sunak hits back at criticism of fleeting COP28 visit

Rishi Sunak hits back at criticism of fleeting COP28 visit

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DUBAI — Rishi Sunak defended his decision to only attend the COP28 climate summit for a half a day, saying it would be wrong to “measure our impact here by hours spent.”

The U.K. prime minister left the Dubai summit for his return flight to the U.K. on Friday evening, having only arrived in the UAE 11 hours earlier.

Other world leaders have devoted more time to the U.N. climate conference and the U.K.’s own head of state, King Charles III, attended for two full days.

“It is hugely simplistic to measure the impact of our presence here by the hours we spend,” Sunak said in response to a POLITICO question at a press conference Friday.

He said: “You could be saying to me, ‘you should be here for three days.’ But that would mean nothing if I hadn’t come home with £10 billion of investment in an offshore wind farm, creating jobs and providing clean energy, or I hadn’t been able to announce more money for climate finance.”

“I feel very good that this has been a very productive day,” he added. “But it’s not the only day that we focus on tackling climate change.”

Sunak has faced criticism from green advocates at home for rowing back on key net zero targets and giving the go-ahead to new oil and gas exploration licences in the North Sea. On the day of his arrival at the summit, one of his former ministers, Zac Goldsmith, said the U.K.’s standing on the world stage on climate had been “diminished in recent months.”

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour opposition — who arrived at the summit on Thursday and departs on Sunday — accused Sunak of lacking “seriousness” on climate. “The smallness of his politics is becoming a feature of his politics,” Starmer told reporters in Dubai.

But Sunak cited a major new investment in U.K. offshore wind announced in Dubai and new funding commitments for poorer countries among the key achievements announced by the U.K. at the summit.

He said he had not encountered any negativity about the U.K.’s recent climate policies, saying: “Hand on heart, 100 percent, no. Not a single leader that I’ve spoken to today has spoken about that.”

Sunak reiterated his position that climate action needs to come with a consideration of the cost of living pressures on ordinary people and insisted that “we won’t tackle climate change unless we take people with us,” warning starkly that “climate politics is close to breaking point.”

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