Kamala Harris announces new $3 billion US pledge to global climate action at Dubai summit
Vice President Kamala Harris announced new funding for climate action on Saturday at the COP28 summit in Dubai, where she touted American leadership on the climate crisis, including its recent investments in clean energy and efforts to make vulnerable communities more resilient to worsening climate disasters.
Harris said the US would pledge another $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund – the main finance vehicle to help developing nations adapt to the climate crisis and cut fossil fuel pollution. The US has previously delivered $2 billion to the fund.
The announcement comes after the US was criticized by some climate experts and advocacy groups earlier this week for contributing what they said was an “embarrassing” amount of money – $17.5 million – to a newly created damage fund to help developing countries cope with climate disasters.
“The United States has turned ambition into action,” Harris said Saturday, touting billions of of dollars in new investments as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act. Harris referenced hundreds of new and expanded solar panel, wind turbine, electric vehicle and battery manufacturing plants, and new efforts to safeguard habitats and communities from climate-fueled extreme weather and rising seas.
“Today we are demonstrating through action how the world can and must meet this crisis,” Harris said. “This is a pivotal moment.”
US officials also announced the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that is expected to slash methane emissions by nearly 80% from the oil and gas industry. And in what was described by some advocates as a mostly symbolic move, officials said it is committed to phasing out coal-fired power plants, and joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance. The alliance focuses on halting new unabated coal plants – ones that do nothing to capture facilities’ carbon pollution before it reaches the atmosphere.
The county was already on the path to phasing coal – the fossil fuel with the biggest climate impact – out of its energy portfolio. Coal started to get displaced by the natural gas boom more than a decade ago, and has recently struggled to compete with vastly cheaper renewable energy like wind and solar. The US has retired a “substantial” amount of coal-fired power over the past decade, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Harris’ attendance at the summit in Dubai is in line with her recent steps to ramp up public messaging on climate change. In recent months, the vice president has attended climate-related events, including talking to students and young voters on an issue central to them.
“The clock is no longer just ticking; it’s banging,” Harris said of the climate on Saturday. “And we must make up for lost time and we cannot afford to be incremental.”
Countries across the world, she said, “must lead with courage and conviction. We must treat the climate crisis as the existential threat it truly is. It is our duty and obligation. Not a choice.”
She is the highest-ranking US official to attend the conference after President Joe Biden decided against attending for the first time during his tenure, having visited both the 2021 and 2022 editions of the conference. Despite the diminished stature of these gatherings in the eyes of some climate activists, the president received some criticism for deciding not to travel to Dubai for this year’s summit. US presidents do not typically attend every annual climate conference, often only attending during major years.
Harris will also be focused on the Israel-Hamas war at the summit during conversations with world leaders, according to the White House.
Harris, the White House said, “will have an opportunity to meet with regional leaders and consult with them on latest developments in Gaza and, in particular, she will focus on day-after planning.”
The summit began this week with global delegates formally adopting a damage fund that was decades in the making. In what represented an early success, several countries pledged millions of dollars to help nations hit hardest by the climate crisis. The UAE pledged $100 million, as did Germany. The UK announced £60 million, part of which will be used for “other arrangements,” according to a release, while the US committed $17.5 million to the fund and Japan contributed $10 million.
The Biden administration’s handling of climate change reflects a larger pattern ahead of next year’s general election. Recent polls show Biden receiving low approval ratings from voters and trailing former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, in battleground states. At the same time, the administration has struggled to promote its signature achievements in a way that resonates with voters.
Climate change is often cited by young progressive voters as a top issue. While Biden has made it a top priority since coming into office – he signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes key provisions to reduce carbon emissions, and has recommitted the US to the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – there is still an undercurrent among young voters that the administration has not done enough.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll from July found that 57% of Americans disapproved of the way Biden has handled climate policy, including 59% of 18-29 year olds. Seventy-four percent of Democrats said they approved of how Biden had addressed the issue, but just 40% of independents and 8% of Republicans agreed. Most Americans – 71% – said they had read or heard very little about the Inflation Reduction Act.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Sam Fossum and Ella Nilsen contributed to this report.
PHOTO: Zuma Press