Harris dashed to Dubai to tackle climate change and war. Each carries high political risks at home

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Filling in for President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris flew to the Middle East to tackle a pair of challenges that have flummoxed White Houses for decades: climate change and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each carries the risk of political blowback going into next year’s presidential elections.

She spent barely 24 hours on the ground in Dubai, less time than it took to get to the United Arab Emirates and then back to Washington.


At the U.N. climate conference, when it was announced that “her excellency Kamala Harris” was taking the stage Saturday for remarks, she was not even in the room.

Harris’ chair sat unoccupied as world leaders assembled for the panel spoke. When she did show up, she gave a short speech, then dashed off quickly, only to be summoned back for a group photo.

Harris was delayed because she had been on the telephone with the emir of Qatar regarding the Israel-Hamas war. And she was in a hurry after the climate event for more meetings with Arab leaders as Israeli bombardments resumed in Gaza after a temporary cease-fire.

The awkward double booking during Harris’ hastily arranged Dubai trip illustrates a set of tricky — and at times potentially contradictory — policy and political crosscurrents. The Biden administration with its diverse coalition of voters is trying to navigate these crosscurrents just as the 2024 presidential race is heating up.

When Harris spoke to reporters after her day of diplomacy, her prepared remarks skipped over the U.S. pledge to commit an additional $3 billion to a climate fund, a development she had cited in her conference speech. To the media, she focused on steps to resolve the war and prepare for what would come next.

“We all want this conflict to end as soon as possible, and to ensure Israel’s security and ensure security for the Palestinian people,” Harris said.

Climate and conflict are matters that require a balancing act at home as a possible Biden rematch with former President Donald Trump unfolds.

The Democratic administration is staking much of the U.S. economy’s future on renewable energy, yet voters are frustrated by gasoline prices that are higher than when Biden took office. Similarly, the war that began on Oct. 7 has exposed a divided between Democrats over Washington’s support for Israel and the suffering of Palestinian civilians.

As the 81-year-old Biden seeks a second term, Harris, 59, has taken on a larger role promoting his campaign to younger voters.

During a monthslong college tour to campuses across the country, the vice president spoke at every stop about the existential threat of climate change, only to have audience members frequently express concern that the administration and the rest of the world are not doing enough.

In Dubai, Harris said it was “our duty and our obligation” to do more to move the world away from fossil fuels and limit the increase in average global temperatures. She said the U.S. would contribute $3 billion to a global fund meant to help developing countries better confront climate change and was joining 90-plus nations in promising to double energy efficiency and triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.

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