Donald Trump is set to attend the United Nations headquarters during Monday’s key summit on the climate crisis – but will be there to take part in a meeting on religious freedom instead.
A senior UN official confirmed to the Guardian that the White House has booked one of the large conference rooms in the New York headquarters on Monday so that the president can address a gathering on religious freedom.
The move is likely to be seen as a blatant snub to the UN climate summit, to be held in the same building on the same day. Leaders from around the world, including the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson; France’s president, Emmanuel Macron; and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, are expected at the summit as part of a major UN push to heighten the response to the escalating climate crisis.
UN sources said the booking of the room was relatively last minute and will cause some logistical issues given the major security operation that accompanies the US president wherever he goes. But a senior UN official said they were “not panicked” given the large organizational capacity of the UN general assembly.
“No one was really expecting the president to come to the climate summit,” the official said. It’s understood that senior UN staff have realistic expectations of Trump and do not expect him to engage on the climate crisis, even for a summit held in his home town. Trump has vowed the US will withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement.
“He’ll clog up the whole system,” said Mary Robinson, former Irish president and ex-UN high commissioner for human rights. “He won’t go to the climate summit and he wants the distraction factor, I suppose.”
Even if Trump were to attend it is unlikely he would have been called to the podium to speak. Representatives from about 60 countries are expected to address the UN on Monday on the further commitments they are making to slash greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the flooding, storms and other impacts of global heating.
The speakers will outline “only the best plans, only the most committed leaders will be on the stage”, according to Luis Alfonso de Alba, the UN’s special envoy for the climate summit.
Still, Trump’s presence in the UN building, at a time when climate protests swept around the world on Friday, will prove provocative. “Not participating and yet showing up at the building is throwing down a gauntlet,” said David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute.
“It’s most importantly a snub to the young people pleading for action on climate change. Donald Trump has made very clear internationally and domestically he has no interest in the science or this issue. It’s up to the rest of the world to get on with its business.”
The Guardian has contacted the White House for comment.