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In Dubai, Harris deals with 2 issues important to young voters: climate and Gaza

Vice President Harris speaks to leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on Dec. 2, 2023.
Giuseppe Cacace
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AFP via Getty Images
Vice President Harris speaks to leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on Dec. 2, 2023.

Updated December 2, 2023 at 6:47 PM ET

DUBAI — Vice President Harris on Saturday told leaders gathered at a United Nations summit that they should take a cue from young activists and do more to curb climate change.

It was one of several explicit nods Harris made to young voters — a key segment of support for the Biden-Harris ticket in 2020 — who have expressed disappointment with the administration's climate record leading up to the 2024 presidential election.

Young voters have also expressed disapproval of President Biden's full-throated support for Israel as it fights Hamas in Gaza after the Oct. 7 attacks. Polls show young voters are more likely than older voters to sympathize with Palestinians than Israel, and think Israel's response in Gaza has gone too far.

Making her most extensive comments to date on the conflict, Harris said Israel had the right to "eliminate the threat of Hamas" but she also repeatedly said Israel needed to do more to protect civilians in Gaza.

"Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating," she said, noting that she had spoken with members of the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities in the United States.

Her remarks aligned with those made by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday morning.

Speaking at a national defense forum in Simi Valley, Calif., Austin warned Israel's leaders that if they don't protect civilians in Gaza, they could win the battle but lose the war: "You see, in this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat."

Vice President Harris speaks at a forum on increasing global renewable energy during COP28 in Dubai.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Vice President Harris speaks at a forum on increasing global renewable energy during COP28 in Dubai.

Harris met with regional leaders about Gaza

Harris was in Dubai as fighting in Gaza resumed after a five-day temporary truce collapsed. She met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan and UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed on the sidelines of the COP28 meeting — and spoke by phone to Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Officials said she called the emir after hearing that talks had broken down about a renewed pause in fighting.

Harris said her goal was to build regional consensus and accelerate plans for Gaza after the fighting stops, citing five principles guiding the U.S. approach: "No forcible displacement, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, no reduction in territory, and no use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism," she said.

She said that the international community needed to pour resources into rebuilding hospitals, housing and infrastructure in Gaza – and reiterated that the United States wants to see Gaza and West Bank unified and governed by a "transparent, responsive" government led by a strengthened Palestinian Authority.

Vice President Harris waves as she leaves the stage after speaking to leaders during the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit on Dec. 2, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Kamran Jebreili / AP
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AP
Vice President Harris waves as she leaves the stage after speaking to leaders during the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit on Dec. 2, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Harris announced a new $3 billion pledge to help developing nations on climate

Leading up to the election, now less than a year away, Harris has been dispatched to speak to college campuses to try to get young voters excited about President Biden's track record.

Young voters were a key bloc of support for the Biden-Harris ticket in the 2020 election, but their enthusiasm has since sagged. Climate is a key concern for many younger voters. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from this summer found that nearly 6 in 10 millennial and Gen Z Americans believe addressing climate change should be a priority even at the risk of slowing economic growth.

Polling shows approval for Biden's handling of climate change has declined in spite of the investments in his landmark Inflation Reduction Act, particularly with young voters. The president has faced backlash over a decision earlier this year to approve a large drilling project known as Willow on federal land in Alaska, and some young voters would like to see Biden declare a climate emergency to give him more power to tackle the issue.

Harris' trip to Dubai to COP28 was hastily organized after the White House said President Biden would not attend the summit.

On climate, Harris pointed to spending that the Biden administration has already committed, and rolled out a new $3 billion pledge to the UN's Green Climate Fund to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change. The pledge will require funding from Congress, which is not easy to come by.

She praised young activists for their passion on the issue. "They understand the urgency of this moment, and they fight with conviction, knowing we still have time to make a difference. So let us all share in their sense of urgency and their optimism. Let us all lead then with ambition and conviction," Harris said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.