The chair of an influential group of MPs lambasted David Cameron on Monday for not going to next week's Rio+20 Earth summit, saying it sent a signal to the world that Britain does not see sustainability as a priority and that the PM is not showing global leadership.
"The secretary general of the UN has labelled the Rio+20 conference as one of the most important conferences in the history of the United Nations. The dates were even changed so as not to clash with the Diamond Jubilee to enable Commonwealth countries to attend", said Joan Walley MP, chair of the environmental audit committee.
"In not attending, the prime minister is sending out a powerful signal that the UK government does not see sustainability as a priority", said Whalley.
Deputy PM Nick Clegg and environment secretary Caroline Spelman will go to the three day high level meeting of the summit at which 130 world leaders have pledged to go. Many other leaders of G20 countries including Barack Obama and Angela Merkel will also not attend.
The summit, which will be the largest ever organised by the UN, expects countries to take long-term decisions on the directions their economies should take to tackle environment and financial crises. They are expected to sign up to a set of new environmental initiatives, as well as to commit to using fewer resources.
"The prime minister should attend the Rio+20 conference and make an announcement to that effect as early as possible, to demonstrate the government's commitment to the aims of the conference, within the UK and beyond," said Whalley.
Precedence for arriving unexpectedly at UN summits was set by George Bush senior in 1992 when, following pleas from Britain, the US president changed his mind and decided to go to the Rio Earth summit with just a few days' notice.
Further criticism was levelled at Britain for not sending anyone to Rio from the Department for International Development, the ministry which oversees aid and UK development policy.
"Over 130 heads of state are coming, the biggest number ever. It is a shame the UK prime minister is not one. One question that should be asked is why has DfID, boycotted Rio and not been to any preparatory meetings. It is the only developed country aid ministry not to attend", said Felix Dodds, director of Stakeholder Forum, an international organisation working to advance sustainable development.
"Globally, there has been inadequate progress on sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Earth summit. Some 'planetary boundaries' having been breached, and others approaching, make the task more urgent than ever", said the commitee which includes MPs such as Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and Conservative Zac Goldsmith.
"Countries risk 'sleep walking' into an even worse environmental crisis if world leaders fail find a greener and cleaner way of developing our economies. It is down to us to find these solutions and to insist that our governments do so too," said Walley.
Article originally appeared in The Guardian.