Officials in the United Arab Emirates had expected Biden to attend, according to one person familiar with the conference.
White House aides are balancing demands for the president’s time amid a war in the Middle East that has erupted not far from Dubai. One official said the war is among the factors in deciding the president’s upcoming schedule, but noted that Biden traveled to Tel Aviv last month after the Hamas terror attacks on Israel precipitated the conflict. He also made a secret trip to Ukraine earlier this year amid Russia’s invasion.
There also could be a showdown later this year over government spending that could require Biden to stay in Washington, one of the officials said. The current temporary government spending bill is set to expire Nov. 17 and it is not clear how the new Republican House speaker, Mike Johnson, will handle negotiations that could force a government shutdown.
The optics of holding the climate conference in the UAE, a major oil producer, has always been awkward, but dozens of countries plan to use the meeting to push for the world’s first deal to phase out CO2-emitting coal, oil and gas.
Biden attended the first two COP conferences of his term, in 2021 in Scotland and 2022 in Egypt. A year ago, he went to Sharm El-Sheikh on the heels of signing into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed sweeping climate change reforms. He has fewer new tangible green accomplishments this year but could still highlight climate change — an issue that polling suggests is important to many young voters and liberal Democrats — less than a year out from standing for reelection.
“President Biden has led and delivered on the most ambitious climate agenda in history, both at home and abroad. Although we don’t have any travel updates to share at this time, the Administration looks forward to a robust and productive COP28,” a White House spokesperson said.
An appearance in Dubai could have provided Biden with a chance to meet with Arab Leaders against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war and amid fears the conflict could expand in the region. A planned meeting with some Arab leaders last month in Jordan, scheduled to take place immediately after Biden left Tel Aviv, was canceled after an explosion at a hospital in Gaza.
It also appears unclear whether Biden will follow through on his pledge to become the first U.S. president to set foot on the continent of Africa since Barack Obama’s trip in 2015. At a summit of African nations in Washington last December, Biden vowed to visit this year as part of a recommitment of U.S. interest in the continent, which had seen China and Russia expand their influence in recent years.
White House officials had still been debating as recently as earlier this fall which country Biden would visit — Kenya and South Africa were among the contenders — amid a tumultuous year on the continent that witnessed multiple governments overthrown. They considered having the president go after the G-20 meeting in India in September but the planning — though never official — then shifted to pairing it with the COP visit. An aide stressed that the administration’s commitment to Africa remains unchanged.
White House aides believe that the foreign travel will be very limited next year, as the president plans to focus on domestic trips for his reelection campaign.
Next year’s G-7 summit in Italy and the G-20 in Brazil are possibilities but neither has been finalized, nor has a possible return to India to strengthen ties among the Quad countries — India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. The annual NATO summit will be in Washington next year.
Biden does plan to attend a Pacific states summit later this month that is being held in San Francisco.