Vice President Harris will attend COP28 climate conference in Dubai

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference,Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris will join the U.S. delegation to Dubai for the annual United Nations conference on climate change, the White House said Wednesday.

This weekend's trip for COP28 appears to have been hastily arranged, since her staff recently said she had no plans to attend.

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White House officials did not explain the change in plans, but the announcement comes after criticism of Joe Biden's decision to skip the summit. He’s also no longer expected to make a promised trip to Africa before the end of the year.

The White House said Biden spoke Wednesday with President Mohamed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting COP28. According to an official summary of the call, Biden said Harris will “showcase U.S. global leadership on climate at home and abroad” and will “help galvanize increased global ambition at this critical event.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, special envoy John Kerry, climate adviser Ali Zaidi and clean energy adviser John Podesta are going to Dubai as well. The summit is an opportunity for world leaders to assess their progress — or lack thereof — in the fight against global warming.

“The urgency of this challenge is clear, but so is our ambition," Podesta told reporters Wednesday. He said Biden's agenda was accelerating the spread of clean energy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Harris' participation in the two-week conference will be brief, and she's scheduled to leave Washington on Friday and return Sunday. She's expected to speak publicly Saturday.

Her trip will be closely watched for reasons other than climate change. She's the highest-ranking U.S. leader to visit an Arab nation since the war between Israel and Hamas began almost two months ago.

A White House official said the vice president's engagement with world leaders at the summit was likely to include conversation on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss tentative plans.

Biden had originally planned to visit Jordan as well as Israel in October, but the stop was scrapped amid controversy over an explosion at a hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Although the blast was initially blamed on Israel by Hamas authorities, further analysis — including by The Associated Press — indicated that a misfired Palestinian rocket was the cause.

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