Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the U.S. delegation to the world’s premier climate summit, the White House said Wednesday.
The White House stressed that President Joe Biden considers the climate crisis among his top four priorities, but the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has consumed much of his time and attention.
“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,” said Kirsten Allen, the vice president’s press secretary.
Harris will lead dozens of top U.S. officials, including special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry and others from more than 20 agencies and departments, the White House said.
This year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties — known as COP28 because it is the 28th gathering of its kind — will be hosted by United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed. The royal, who took office after the 2022 death of his brother, is also chairman of the Supreme Petroleum Council, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s top governing body for oil, gas and related industries.
Nearly 200 countries represented
More than 70,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries are beginning to converge on the city of Dubai, which has seen a meteoric rise from its fishing village roots, thanks to its massive oil wealth.
There, in a city known for its artificial archipelago and hyperluxury shopping offerings inside a mall that covers more than 50 soccer fields and contains an indoor ski slope and a colony of penguins, they will assess the progress toward the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
In a statement, Biden said Harris would “showcase U.S. global leadership on climate at home and abroad” and would “help galvanize increased global ambition at this critical event.”
She will attend meetings Friday and Saturday in Dubai.
Earlier this week, when asked why Biden was not attending the summit, John Kirby, director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Biden was “more than capable” of handling his many responsibilities, but that the Mideast conflict had “obviously” been a recent focus.
‘Race to the top’
VOA on Wednesday asked White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi whether the United States would push for a deal to commit countries to phase out fossil fuels by a certain date. In September, leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies failed to agree on this issue.
Washington, Zaidi replied, seeks to “phase down the emissions that come from the unabated burning of fossil fuels.”
That word — unabated — may be a sticking point in this year’s declaration, as it would permit the opening of new fossil fuel plants if they have thus far unproven technology meant to capture and store carbon emissions.
Already, an intergovernmental group of 117 countries has questioned that language and has indicated opposition to its inclusion.
“The emission abatement technologies which currently only exist at limited scale have a minor role to play to reduce emissions mainly from hard to abate sectors,” the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People said in a statement signed by ministers from 16 countries, including Austria, Ethiopia and France. “However, they should not be used to delay climate action in sectors such as electricity generation where feasible, effective and cost-efficient mitigation alternatives are available, particularly in this critical decade when emissions need to be reduced urgently and dramatically.”
Zaidi also pointed out Biden’s role in passing a significant climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, which commits at least $370 billion to clean energy over the next 10 years — something Harris will also emphasize at the gathering, administration officials told reporters in a briefing on the matter on Wednesday.
“This is a race to the top, hopefully, for clean energy,” Zaidi told VOA. “We want to lead that race, and the good news is the more countries that join that race, the better off we’ll be in tackling these emissions. We need countries like China and other major economies to be the ones that reduce emissions in a major way. We’re doing that here at home.”