President Biden signed the nation’s first major climate law and is overseeing a record federal investment in clean energy. In each of the past two years, he attended the annual United Nations climate summit, asserting American leadership in the fight against global warming.
But this year, which will likely be the hottest on record, Biden will stay home.
According to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s agenda, Biden will not travel to the summit in Dubai. His advisers say he is consumed by other global crises, namely trying to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in its war with Israel and working to persuade Congress to approve aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
At home, Biden’s climate and energy policies are colliding with competing political pressures. Concerned by Republican attacks that Biden is pursuing a “radical green agenda,” centrists in his party want him to talk more about the fact that the United States has produced record amounts of crude oil this year. At the same time, climate activists, particularly the young voters who helped elect Biden, want the president to stop drilling altogether.
Internationally, developing countries are pressuring Biden to make good on earlier promises of billions of dollars to help address climate change. But Republicans in Congress who control spending scoff at the idea and have been unable to reach an agreement among themselves on issues such as aid to Israel and Ukraine.
By bypassing the climate summit known as COP28, Biden is missing an opportunity to strengthen his climate credentials, said Michele Weindling, political director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activist group.
“If Biden wants to be taken seriously on climate by the young people of his country and the rest of the world, he must use every tool at his disposal to mobilize the US government to save lives,” he said.
David Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative at the University of California, San Diego, was more direct. “He really has to worry about keeping the left united and his re-election,” Victor said.
Biden has angered environmental groups by allowing new oil leases, including the Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope. He also accelerated exports of liquefied gas to Europe, which was facing an energy crisis over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, helping make the United States the world’s largest gas exporter.
The United States has produced a record amount of crude oil under Biden, becoming the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. Gasoline prices averaged $3.25 a gallon nationwide on Monday, above pre-pandemic levels but down 30 cents from a year ago.
But he also signed the largest climate law in U.S. history, the Inflation Reduction Act, which directs hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to technologies, such as solar panels and electric cars, aimed at reducing emissions. of greenhouse gases. His administration has also proposed strict new limits on tailpipe and smokestack emissions.
Republicans have accused the president of waging war on American energy, and candidates running to try to unseat Biden have promised to open federal lands to much more oil and gas drilling.
That has led some within the Democratic Party to urge Biden to talk about oil production. Earlier this month, a new polling group called Blueprint, which is dedicated to helping Democrats craft winning messages for the 2024 elections, said Biden was failing to raise voters’ awareness of what the group called political achievements.” moderates”, including the “issuance of historic decisions. number of oil and gas drilling permits.”
At the same time, some conservation groups are calling on Biden to halt any new drilling. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental action group, published a report on Monday estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from the new oil and gas projects Biden approved will exceed the emissions reductions from all of his climate policies combined.
Administration officials say privately that their hopes that Biden would attend a third consecutive summit, which would have set an attendance record for an American president, were complicated by the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas. Biden has devoted a lot of time and energy to that conflict, including a surprise trip to Israel.
He almost certainly would have needed to add another trip to Israel, and probably other countries in the region, if he had chosen to attend the climate conference, his aides said.
On Monday, some senior advisers were making a last-ditch effort to convince Biden to reconsider his plans and travel to the summit, which runs through mid-December, although success seemed unlikely.
More than 100 world leaders are scheduled to appear in Dubai, including King Charles III, Pope Francis, President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
But like Biden, President Xi Jinping of China will also be absent from the event. Instead, China, which is currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will be represented by Ding Xuexiang, a senior adviser to Xi.
Xi and Biden met in California earlier this month and agreed to work to boost renewable energy that could displace fossil fuels.
If the two men reconsidered their decision and appeared in Dubai, it would “give a morale boost to everyone” at the summit, said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington.
“It’s a very tense time for the world,” he said.
In Dubai, leaders are expected to discuss their progress, or lack thereof, in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say humans will have trouble adapting to intensifying wildfires, heat waves, droughts and storms. At the 2015 Paris summit, countries agreed to reduce emissions from burning coal, oil and gas to keep global warming “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The planet has already warmed by an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius.
“A lot of the conversation will be ‘Is 1.5 still alive’?” said Joseph Majkut, director of the energy security and climate change program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “The reality is that it’s going to be incredibly difficult to achieve.”
One of the main issues at the summit will be whether nations agree to phase out fossil fuels, the burning of which is the main driver of climate change.
“What we’re pushing here is a sensible policy that everyone can buy into and actually implement,” said John Kerry, Biden’s special envoy for climate change, who will be in Dubai. “There are 199 countries at the COP with very diverse opinions on this issue. That is why we are going to work to achieve the best possible language.”
Keith Bradsher contributed reports.