President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at a White House event in Washington D.C. on May 26, 2023.

(Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Biden to Skip COP28 as He Faces Calls to Back Fossil Fuel Phaseout

The U.S. president has come under heavy criticism for approving oil and gas projects in the face of global climate breakdown.

U.S. President Joe Biden is reportedly planning to skip the United Nations climate summit that kicks off later this week in Dubai, a decision sure to anger climate advocates and scientists who have pushed him to back a speedy fossil fuel phaseout at the talks.

The New York Times was first to report the president's plans on Sunday, citing an unnamed White House official who did not provide a specific reason why Biden intends to skip COP28, which comes at the tail end of what's almost certain to be the hottest year on record. The U.S. is the largest historical emitter of planet-warning greenhouse gases, and the country is on pace to extract more oil and gas than ever this year.

Biden attended the previous two U.N. climate summits, neither of which yielded concrete agreements from world leaders to drastically curb oil, gas, and coal production and use in line with the latest scientific evidence indicating that nations are acting far too slowly to prevent catastrophic warming.

The U.S. president has himself faced significant backlash for approving massive fossil fuel projects such as the Willow drilling venture on Alaska's North Slope, which—if completed—is expected to result in more than 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution each year. And Biden's fossil fuel approvals go well beyond Willow: During his first two years in office, the president's administration greenlit more than 6,400 permits for oil and gas drilling, outpacing the Trump administration.

According toThe Washington Post, "there are no public events" on Biden's schedule for Friday, the first day of COP28's world leaders' summit. On Thursday, the opening day of COP28, Biden "is set to meet with Angolan President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço and participate in the White House Christmas tree lighting," the Post reported.

John Kerry, Biden's climate envoy, will be in attendance at COP28.

News that the U.S. president will be skipping COP28 came as the BBC reported that the summit's host, the United Arab Emirates, "planned to use its role... as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals."

"The UAE team did not deny using COP28 meetings for business talks," the outlet added, "and said 'private meetings are private.'"

Last week, research by the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition showed that oil and gas industry lobbyists have attended United Nations-led climate talks more than 7,000 times over the past 20 years in an attempt to prevent action to rein in fossil fuels.

Like previous U.N. climate summits, COP28 is expected to be inundated with fossil fuel representatives, particularly given the UAE's status as one of the world's leading oil producers. Sultan al-Jaber, president of COP28, is the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Kaisa Kosonen, policy coordinator at Greenpeace International, said in response to the BBC report that "the climate summit leader should be focused on advancing climate solutions impartially, not backroom deals that are fueling the crisis."

"We have all the solutions we need to transition to renewable energy, but it won't happen fast enough if governments fail to regulate fossil fuels out of the way," said Kosonen. "COP is an opportunity to secure our survival, not to strike business deals that fuel the crisis."

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