RISHI Sunak has denied his absence from the COP27 climate summit in Egypt next month is a “massive failure of leadership”, as Labour have claimed.

Despite the UK hosting COP26 in Glasgow last year, the Prime Minister will not attend the follow-up conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, and claimed it was right for him to focus on "depressing domestic challenges" instead.

However he is planning to go to the G20 meeting in Bali immediately before the Chancellor’s crucial autumn statement on November 17.

The UN this week warned the world's continued high emissions of greenhouse gases would lead to a catstrophic climate changes.

Despite countries promising in Glasgow to aim for no more than a 1.5C rise in temperatures above pre-industrial levels, the projection is still 2.5C.

Speaking to the media during a hospital visit in south London, Mr Sunak said he was “really proud” of the UK’s record on tackling climate change, citing COP26 in Glasgow.

Put to him that Labour has said his non-attendance in Egypt was a “massive failure of leadership”, he said: “No. The leadership that we have shown on the climate is unmatched almost along the world.”

During the summer Tory leadership content, Mr Sunak often claimed his young daughters raised the issue of climate change with him, and it was a key priority for him too. 

He said: “It’s important to me that as Prime Minister we leave behind an environment that is better for our children and grandchildren. I’m very passionate about that. I’m very personally committed to it.

“I just think, at the moment, it’s right that I’m also focusing on the depressing domestic challenges we have with the economy. I think that’s what people watching would reasonably expect me to be doing as well.”

Downing Street also said the UK Government remained “absolutely committed” to leading international action on climate change despite Mr Sunak’s absence from Cop27.

A spokeswoman suggested the public would expect Mr Sunak to be in the country dealing with the “serious economic challenges” facing the UK, rather than at the summit in Egypt.

Asked about former culture secretary Nadine Dorries saying it was “wrong” for Mr Sunak not to attend, she said: “The Government remains absolutely committed to leading international and domestic action to tackle climate change and to protect nature.

“We are facing serious economic challenges. The Prime Minister is focused on dealing with those issues, and the public, I think, would also expect him to be in the country… dealing with those and ahead of the autumn statement.

“But we’re also very clear that the public should also judge us by our actions and we are forging ahead of many other countries on net zero, for example.

“We will, of course, also be represented at senior ministerial level with the Foreign, Business and Environment Secretaries all due to attend alongside the Cop President.”

The spokeswoman also said it was “unanimously agreed” by Buckingham Palace and the Government under Liz Truss that the King would not attend COP27.

She said it was agreed it was not the “right occasion” for King Charles to visit in person.

She added that she was “not aware” that the advice had changed under Mr Sunak.

“As is standard practice, Government advice was sought and provided under a previous PM, and it was unanimously agreed that it would not be the right occasion for the King to visit in person,” she said.

“I’m not aware that that advice has changed but obviously any confirmation of the King’s travel would be for the Palace.”

Asked if there are any plans for the conversation between the Palace and the Government to reopen, she said again that she was not aware the advice has changed.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said the UK would show “global leadership” on climate change, and that didn’t rely on Mr Sunak attending “a gathering of people in Egypt”.

She said she expected to be at COP27 for “a couple of days”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I think we’re still working out the programme, but there are events that happen for a variety of ministers, whether it’s about energy or water, or the combination with nature. I think, me personally, I think I’m going to be there for a couple of days. It’s my understanding other ministers will be there because the days in a Cop tend to have themes.”

She told LBC later: “The politically big significant things happen every five years.

“The Government has postponed the medium term fiscal plan until November 17, I know that the Prime Minister is very keen to work with the Chancellor very closely on this important element, and so he’s prioritising that.

“While at the same time, of course, the UK continues to show global leadership, as opposed to just a gathering of people in Egypt.”

She refused to say whether climate change or Vladimir Putiin posed the greater threat.

She said: “We need to continue to address challenges for our country – climate change is a longer-term process. The immediate threat from Putin is very concerning.”

Pressed again, she said: “I’m not going to say which is the greater threat. There’s an acute threat right now from Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. We’ve already seen the impact (of) that in terms of our economy, in terms of energy supplies, and it’s very worrying about what is there now. But that is now for the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary to continue to address.”