Cameron Refuses To Attend UN Climate Change Talks

David Cameron has refused to attend the UN climate talks in Cancún, despite a direct appeal by the Mexican chair of the conference.

The talks, which began today, have been accompanied by little of the razzamatazz that followed the host of celebrities and world leaders that attended last year's event in Copenhagen. The US, UK and EU have all played down the chances of a deal and the Mexican authorities expect about 22,000 people, including 9,000 official delegates and journalists – fewer than half the number that attended the at-times chaotic conference in the Danish capital.

Despite low expectations, at least 20 world leaders are expected to be present, the majority from Latin America. The small island states of Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati and Nauru are also planning to send their leaders. And although the US has little to offer, because of the failure of domestic climate legislation in the Senate earlier this year, the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, warned today that the US risks falling far behind advances made by China and other countries in the global race for clean energy, something he he referred to as a ""Sputnik moment"" – the US response to the Soviet Union's early lead in the space race. ""We face a choice today,"" he said. ""Are we going to continue America's innovation leadership or are we going to fall behind?""

Formal UN climate negotiations do not start until tomorrow but delegates already have been engaged in back-room diplomatic talks, indicating the areas where progress could be possible, without making public their negotiating positions. The US, however, is maintaining that it wants to see the voluntary deal reached in Copenhagen last year become the basis of the talks. ""More than 80 countries have targets. We are looking to build on those targets and to progress. We hope to get a long way with all the tracks,"" said a state department spokesman.

He added that its offer of a 17% cut in e