Harris Steps Up at COP28 A Bold Move in Climate Diplomacy

Estimated read time 4 min read

Vice President Kamala Harris is set to attend the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) on climate change in Dubai, following some criticism over President Joe Biden’s decision to skip the opening of the summit this week. This move underscores Harris’ commitment to addressing the pressing issue of climate change.

In recent months, Vice President Harris has actively engaged in climate-related events, including conversations with students and young voters who are deeply concerned about this critical issue. Kirsten Allen, Harris’ press secretary, confirmed that the Vice President will be participating in the conference on both Friday and Saturday.

Allen stated, “Throughout her engagements, the Vice President will underscore the Biden-Harris Administration’s success in delivering on the most ambitious climate agenda in history, both at home and abroad.”

This decision comes in response to the frustration expressed by climate activists and experts regarding President Biden’s absence from the event. While Biden attended the annual UN climate summit in person in 2021 and 2022, his decision not to attend COP28 raised eyebrows.

This move is reflective of a larger trend in the lead-up to the upcoming general election, where recent polls have shown President Biden receiving low approval ratings and trailing former President Donald Trump, the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, in battleground states. The administration has also grappled with effectively communicating its signature achievements to resonate with voters.

Climate change is a top priority for many young progressive voters, and while President Biden has made substantial efforts since taking office, there remains a sense among young voters that more needs to be done. A poll by The Washington Post-University of Maryland in July indicated that 57% of Americans disapprove of how Biden has handled climate policy, including 59% of voters aged 18-29. Although 74% of Democrats approve of Biden’s approach, only 40% of independents and a mere 8% of Republicans share that sentiment. Astonishingly, 71% of Americans have heard very little about the Inflation Reduction Act, a significant climate policy signed into law by Biden last year.

Regarding President Biden’s absence, the White House has pointed to the presence of top US officials, such as US climate envoy John Kerry and White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi, at COP28. Nearly 200 countries will be participating in the conference, making it a significant global event.

While it’s not unusual for US presidents to miss some international climate summits, Biden’s absence is notable, according to Tom Evans, a policy adviser for the international climate think tank E3G. Evans expressed regret, stating, “It’s definitely a shame that he won’t be there. When he’s not part of the conversation, that shows the US that’s not fully at the table at the highest level,” He also added that the President’s absence is a “missed opportunity” ahead of the 2024 election.

This year’s COP28 is under even greater scrutiny due to accusations that the summit might be used for fossil fuel deals by the UAE’s state-owned oil and gas company. Sultan Al Jaber, the COP28 president-designate, strongly denied these allegations. Several media outlets recently published stories based on leaked documents obtained by the UK-registered Centre for Climate Reporting. These documents appeared to be briefing notes for Al Jaber for meetings with foreign officials leading up to the summit. Al Jaber, who also heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, denied any knowledge of the documents or using such talking points in discussions.

Al Jaber clarified during a news conference in Dubai, “These allegations are false, not true, incorrect, and not accurate,” and emphasized that all of his meetings with officials were strictly focused on his COP28 agenda.

Vice President Kamala Harris’ participation in COP28 serves as a testament to the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to addressing climate change. While President Biden’s absence is notable, the presence of other high-ranking US officials ensures that the country remains actively engaged in the global climate conversation. However, the effectiveness of international climate summits like COP28 continues to be a topic of debate and scrutiny.

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