Biden to skip Cop28 climate summit

John Kerry and other senior administration officials to attend

Rachel Sharp
Monday 27 November 2023 17:43 GMT
As global emissions reach new high, US, China take climate action before COP28

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President Joe Biden is skipping the Cop28 climate summit – a decision that could hurt his reputation among young voters going into the 2024 election.

Mr Biden’s absence from the two-week conference, held this year in the United Arab Emirates, was confirmed by an anonymous White House official to The New York Times on Sunday.

No reason was offered for his lack of attendance but senior Biden administration officials have hinted that the ongoing Israel-Hamas war is taking up the president’s time and energy.

“They’ve got the war in the Middle East and a war in Ukraine, a bunch of things going on,” John Kerry, the Biden administration’s special envoy for climate change, previously told reporters when asked about Mr Biden’s Cop28 plans.

Cop28 will kick off on Thursday (30 November), with 70,000 delegates from 200 nations expected to attend.

Among the high-profile attendees will be King Charles III and Pope Francis, who insisted on Sunday that he will still attend despite suffering from lung inflammation.

Vice President Kamala Harris is not expected to attend Cop28 either.

However, several top US officials including Mr Kerry, National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, and Senior Advisor John Podestawill represent US interests in the global effort to tackle the climate crisis.

According to Mr Biden’s schedule, released by the White House on Sunday, he will spend this Thursday hosting a bilateral meeting with Angolan President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, then take part in the National Christmas Tree Lighting with First Lady Jill Biden.

On Sunday (3 December), he will attend the 46th Kennedy Center Honors where actor Billy Crystal and Bee Gees member Barry Gibb are among those being honoured with lifetime arts achievements.

His schedule is empty this coming Friday and Saturday - the same days that the Cop28 leaders’ summit will be held.

The Independent has contacted the White House for comment.

A White House spokesperson told Axios on Sunday that there were no travel plans to share “at this time” but touted the president’s environmental record.

“Since day one, President Biden has led and delivered on the most ambitious climate agenda in history, both at home and abroad,” the spokesperson said.

“He secured the largest climate investment ever, putting the U.S. on a path to cut climate pollution in half by 2030, protected more than 21 million acres of public lands and waters, and he continues to rally world leaders to raise their collective climate ambition.”

Mr Biden’s absence at Cop28 could hurt his popularity among voters particularly since he put environmental policies high on his White House agenda.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden board Air Force One on Sunday
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden board Air Force One on Sunday (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In August 2022, Mr Biden introduced what has been hailed as the US’s most significant climate policy, the Inflation Reduction Act, which has poured billions into building out renewables, battery storage, electric vehicles and adapting the landscape to more extreme weather impacts.

Mr Biden has attended the last two UN climate summits. In 2021, he travelled to Glasgow, Scotland for the event and last year he made a stop-over in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

At Cop26 in the UK, Mr Biden apologised for his predecessor Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement which was signed in 2015 by nearly every country to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Earlier this month, Mr Biden warned that global heating is costing $178bn a year to the US economy and slammed Republicans who sow climate denial.

“Anyone who wilfully denies the impact of climate change is condemning the American people to a very dangerous future. The impacts we’re seeing are only gonna get worse, more frequent, more ferocious, and more costly,” he said.

“They hit everyone no matter what their circumstances, but they hit the most vulnerable the hardest.”

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