Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Community leaders from Our Power Campaign attempt to deliver a statement to the UN but are denied entry. They brought "representing our community-led solutions, as plants that clean the soil of toxics," according a group statement. (Photo: Climate Justice Alliance)

Obama's Pitiful Pledge Epitomizes Failure of UN Summit: Climate Campaigners

Following historic protests, grassroots organizations turned away from UN's 'halls of power' when they attempt to deliver statement

Sarah Lazare

Historic crowds gathered in New York City this week to demand drastic action in the face of the ever worsening climate crisis. But at Tuesday's Climate Summit at the United Nations headquarters, heads of state—most notably President Obama—did not come close to heeding the urgent calls for concrete action, say climate justice campaigners.

The summit was convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to showcase "government, finance, business, and civil society" solutions to the climate crisis, according to a UN announcement. Politicians, corporations, and token civil society groups were invited to participate, while social movement organizations were excluded from the summit. Perhaps the most notable thing about this year's meeting, which follows a similar gathering in Copenhagen in 2009, was the large role played by corporations in the day's events and plenaries. Justin Gillis pointing out in the New York Times that "companies are playing a larger role than at any such gathering in the past."

By contrast, numerous heads of state did not attend the summit, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Superficial Commitments

But at an event billed as an opportunity for corporations and politicians to announce voluntary climate commitments, those who did show were short on concrete and binding action steps.

President Barack Obama gave a speech to the UN that was heavy on passionate rhetoric. "The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call," he declared. However, his address provided few details on how these intentions translate into action and did not address the critical question of new U.S. emissions targets. Furthermore, Obama made no mention of sending money to developing countries dealing with the impacts of climate change. Obama's announcement of an executive order to consider climate change in international development programs was met with caution due to the Obama administration's continued support of the fossil fuel industry.

“We’re being exploited, assaulted on an everyday basis, by industry that surrounds our community,” said  Yudith Nieto of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, based in Houston, Texas. “We don’t get any support from our representatives. We have to put our two cents in and let them know that we are here.”

"So far, the Obama administration continues to allow the fossil fuel industry to undermine efforts to address climate change by mining and drilling for coal, oil, and gas from our public lands and waters, unlocking huge quantities of carbon pollution," said Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard in a press statement.

Obama's announcement of an Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, which is a corporate alliance led by extractive industries and not beholden to binding commitments, was slammed by critics. “President Obama’s executive order today, that hinges on the voluntary initiative, the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, is more evidence that his administration is not serious about reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector," said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch. "One does not solve the greatest environmental crisis in our lifetime with half measures and by running interference for the petroleum industry."

At the meeting, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for emissions cuts, declaring, "By the end of this century we must be carbon neutral." Furthermore, he lauded the numerous corporations, including those from oil, gas, and coal extraction industries, for voluntary, non-binding commitments they made at the summit.

As Steven Mufson points out in the Washington Post, countries all over the world are blowing past their emissions targets, and in the United States, greenhouse gas emissions are back on the rise.

Responding to Ki-Moon's declaration, the Climate Justice Alliance warned in a press statement: "On the surface this appears good. In reality, it is thinly veiled language for the promotion of market-based and destructive public-private partnership initiatives such as REDD+, Climate-Smart Agriculture and the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative—which will further exploit human and natural resources to expand the profits of the world’s most wealthy."

Grassroots Organizations Denied Entry

During the UN summit, the Climate Justice Alliance, which represents 35 organizations of communities directly impacted by climate change, attempted deliver to the meeting a coalition statement which reads, “We demand that world leaders support and move money to our community-led priorities and local infrastructure needs to build sustainable community economies, energy democracy, zero waste, food justice, public transit and affordable housing—pathways that can create millions of long-term jobs and put our communities back to work."

But the network was denied entry to the summit, so leaders instead read the statement outside of the UN headquarters.

“Those within the UN Climate Summit need to start thinking about ways to change people’s relationship to the earth, ways to change the definition of prosperity and well-being to something that’s not about money for a few people, but for a good livelihood for everybody,” said Jihan Gearon of Black Mesa Water Coalition on the Navajo Nation.

"World leaders continue not to listen," reads a Climate Justice Alliance statement. "They'll take their photo opportunities in the street, but refuse entrance into the actual halls of power."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Senators Set to Leave Town for 10-Day Recess Without Action on Gun Violence Crisis

"How many more children, mothers, and fathers need to be murdered in cold blood before the Senate has the guts to ban assault weapons and take on the NRA?" asked Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Scientists to BlackRock Vice Chairman: New Fossil Fuel Development 'Incompatible' With 1.5°C

"The only responsible course of action is to do everything in our power to stop fossil fuel expansion and further emissions."

Jessica Corbett ·


Goldman Prize Awarded to Activists Who Showed Nature's 'Amazing Capability to Regenerate'

"While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity."

Julia Conley ·


Faith Leaders Call for Federal Election Monitors in Georgia to Protect Black Voters

"It is imperative that our election this November is monitored to preserve ballot integrity and ensure ballot security."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Inaction Is Bought': Here Are the Receipts on NRA's Purchase of GOP

"The issue is money in politics," said Nina Turner after the nation's latest mass killing of students and teachers. Right-wing lawmakers are "allowing children to die because of the gun lobby."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo