• President Biden will be only major leader absent from COP28

Fuel for Thought

President Biden will be only major leader absent from COP28

Nov 27 2023

In a notable deviation from his active participation in previous global climate summits, President Joe Biden is set to be conspicuously absent from the upcoming 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This decision stands out not only because of Biden's known commitment to climate issues but also due to the high-profile attendance confirmed for the event, including the likes of Pope Francis. 

President Biden's non-attendance at COP28 marks a significant departure from his previous engagements in such international forums. This is particularly noteworthy considering his administration's strong stance on climate change and its embedding in national security strategy. Biden's presence at the last two COP summits underscored the United States' recommitment to global climate initiatives following a period of relative disengagement under the previous administration. 

The timing of Biden's absence coincides with a packed domestic schedule, including the National Tree lighting and a critical bilateral meeting with Angola's President, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. This meeting is expected to touch upon climate and energy, highlighting the continuing importance of these issues within the Biden administration. Additionally, Biden is grappling with international crises, such as the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, and is gearing up for a re-election campaign in 2024. 

COP28, set to commence in Dubai, is expected to draw over 70,000 delegates, including high-profile leaders like Pope Francis, despite his recent health concerns. The Pope's commitment to attending despite these issues underscores the urgency and importance of the climate dialogue at COP28. The presence of such influential figures sets the stage for significant discussions and potential landmark decisions on climate action. 

In Biden's absence, a formidable U.S. delegation, led by Special Envoy John Kerry, National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi, and Senior Adviser John Podesta, will represent the country's interests. This team is tasked with furthering the ambitious climate agenda set forth by the Biden administration, which aims to drastically reduce climate pollution by 2030. 

The U.S. delegation faces several challenges at COP28. Firstly, there is the matter of climate finance. The United States has not pledged new climate funds to the United Nations this year, potentially undermining its position in negotiations. Furthermore, the delegation must navigate complex dynamics with other major blocs and countries, each with its own set of interests and priorities. 

COP28 brings together a diverse array of nations and blocs, each with unique agendas. The EU's negotiating position is among the most ambitious, focusing on tripling renewable capacity and phasing out CO2-emitting fossil fuels. Post-Brexit, the UK aligns closely with the EU on climate issues but has faced criticism for recent policy shifts. Then, there’s the ‘BASIC’ (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) nations. These fast-developing nations emphasize the need for climate finance and equitable responsibility in emissions reduction. A group of negotiators from particularly vulnerable nations in Africa will be in attendance to seek climate finance and mechanisms to accelerate green energy projects, with differing views on fossil fuel phase-out. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) will focus on securing loss and damage finance and limiting global warming to safeguard vulnerable island nations. The Least Developed Countries (LDC) group will represent the interests of nations most vulnerable to climate change, the LDCs demand increased financing for climate adaptation. Similarly, the independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) will advocate for greater climate ambition and funding. 

COP28 is poised to be a critical juncture in global climate diplomacy. The absence of President Biden, while notable, does not diminish the potential for substantial progress, given the high calibre of attendees and the urgent need for decisive action. The U.S. delegation, under the leadership of experienced diplomats and climate experts, will aim to build upon the administration's climate achievements and navigate the complex web of international climate politics. 

The conference is expected to centre around key issues such as fossil fuel phase-out, renewable energy expansion, climate finance, and the implementation of the Paris Agreement goals. The dynamics among different national and regional blocs will play a crucial role in shaping the outcomes of COP28. As the world watches, the decisions and commitments made at this summit will have far-reaching implications for global climate action and the collective effort to mitigate climate change. 


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