Rishi Sunak’s “shrinking” from the international stage is a sign of the “smallness” of his politics, Sir Keir Starmer has said while accusing the Prime Minister of misjudging the public mood on climate action.

The Labour leader said his own participation at Cop28 was to be seen as a “statement of intent” that a government with him at the helm would “play its full part” on the global stage by “leading by example”.

Sir Keir, who polls suggest is on track to snatch the keys to No 10 at the next general election, used his trip to the annual climate gathering to meet world leaders, including the King of Jordan.

Mr Sunak had earlier accused Sir Keir of “just trying to catch up” with plans to make Britain the world’s green finance capital.

In response, the Opposition leader told reporters in Dubai: “I think that an event like this is an opportunity for a prime minister of the United Kingdom to show a seriousness, to show leadership, to want to lead on the global stage on issues which are really important to our country…

“For the Prime Minister to reduce this down in the way that he does, the smallness of his politics is becoming a feature of his politics. We saw it with the Greek prime minister. We saw it with some of the lines that he was putting out about eco zealots as he got on the plane to come here.”

Sir Keir was referring to Mr Sunak’s last-minute cancellation of a planned meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis after accusing him of grandstanding about the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Mr Sunak said he was “not in hock to ideological zealots” over climate change as he prepared to head to the annual UN climate talks.

Sir Keir continued: “This is not something to shrink from, not something to retreat from.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer holds a briefing with the media during the Cop28 UN climate summit in Dubai
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer holds a briefing with the media during the Cop28 UN climate summit in Dubai (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Among the reasons we’re here is a statement of intent to say if there’s an incoming Labour government, things will be done differently and we will rise to the international stage, not retreat from it.”

Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said Mr Sunak’s rollback in September on a host of climate pledges amounted to an attempt to create a culture war, which “hasn’t worked for him”.

Mr Miliband added: “That’s because he’s got the British people wrong. They don’t want an imported US-style culture war on climate. They want a government that will tackle the climate crisis and the cost-of-living crisis together.

“I think he’s just misjudged the public mood.”

In his meeting with the King of Jordan, His Majesty Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, Sir Keir discussed the Israel-Hamas war after fighting resumed in Gaza.

He “repeated his calls for a further cessation of hostilities to allow for the release of more hostages, provide much-needed time to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and open a dialogue for a political solution that provides for a long-term cessation of hostilities,” Labour said.