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Rishi Sunak will become the first British prime minister in a decade not to attend the UN General Assembly, a move expected to draw strong criticism from environmental groups.

The British delegation to next month’s annual gathering in New York will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden and Foreign Secretary James Cleverley, a spokesman for the prime minister said.

Sunak’s departure is likely to add to the frustration of environmental groups, which in recent months have opposed what they see as the prime minister’s lack of engagement on green issues.

The General Assembly is one of the main annual forums used by world leaders to set multilateral policy goals aimed at achieving sustainable economic growth.

This year, it will host the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Summit, where leaders meet every few years to discuss progress on key environmental and social goals.

The heads of more than 100 NGOs wrote to Sunak on Friday urging him to show his commitment to tackling climate change by attending the conference.

Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, the UK-based network of international development organizations that coordinated the letter to Sunak, said the UK had previously played a central role in setting the international SDGs but now “appears to have withdrawn from the leadership” .

“The upcoming UN (Sustainable Development Goals) summit is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to demonstrate leadership on the global stage and rebuild the UK’s reputation as a trusted partner for low-income countries, and this needs to come as a starting point,” she added road.

Sunak took a turnaround last year to attend the U.N.’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt after facing public backlash after saying he would not attend.

Climate experts, business leaders and some Conservative MPs have expressed concern about Sunak’s approach to tackling climate change, with some pointing to the approval of new oil and gas exploration and development projects.

In June, Lord Zack Goldsmith said Sunak was “not interested” in green issues after he resigned as environment minister, adding that the government had “showed indifference in the face of the biggest challenge we have ever faced”.

Last month, Sunak said he was prepared to soften the government’s green policies, saying he did not want to “trouble” voters and that the UK’s net-zero carbon emissions target must be achieved in a “proportionate” way.

He made the remarks after the Conservatives won a by-election to Uxbridge council in greater London, as voters protested London’s Labor mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to extend a toll on heavily polluting vehicles in the capital.

Sunak’s predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, attended the UN General Assembly.

The last time a British prime minister was absent was in 2013 when then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg replaced David Cameron. Cameron has also attended in other years.

A government spokesman said Sunak was “expected to hold discussions with a number of world leaders in the coming months, including at the G20 summit in New Delhi and the COP28 summit in the UAE”.

“He and other ministers will continue to use all engagement with their international counterparts to advance the government’s priorities, including growing the economy, stopping illegal immigration and supporting Ukraine,” the spokesman added.


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