Joe Biden speaks at the U.N. General Assembly

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.


Critics Say Biden's Climate Inaction Belies Lofty Claims in UN Speech

"Unfortunately, the White House is trying to convince us that they are working hard to put out the fire while they continue pouring gasoline on it," said one campaigner.

Climate campaigners on Tuesday took U.S. President Joe Biden to task following an address before the United Nations General Assembly in which he called on world leaders to urgently "climate-proof" the heating Earth while making what critics said were false claims about his administration's efforts to tackle the planetary emergency.

During his speech, Biden said that increasingly extreme weather events occurring around the world "tell the urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels," while claiming that "the United States has treated this crisis as the existential threat from the moment we took office."

Despite such lofty rhetoric and campaign pledges to center climate action—including by stopping new fossil fuel drilling on public lands—Biden has overseen the approval of more new permits for drilling on public land during his first two years in office than former President Donald Trump did in 2017 and 2018. The Biden administration has also held a massive fossil fuel lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and has approved the highly controversial Willow project, Mountain Valley Pipeline, and increased liquefied natural gas production and export.

Oil Change International recently called the United States—which the climate action group says accounts for more than one-third of planned global oil and gas expansion through 2050—the "planet-wrecker-in-chief."

Outside the White House in Washington, D.C., three climate activists—Beaei Pardo, Kristen McKinney, and Chris Hager—were arrested Tuesday during a nonviolent protest calling on Biden to declare a climate emergency.

"Each day Biden delays in taking this step is precious time lost to save lives and secure a habitable future for humankind and countless other species," Pardo said. "As this summer of record heat and relentless climate disasters nears its end, protestors will appeal to Biden to lead courageously with the love he feels for his grandchildren and act to save all of our families. Together we can help make it happen."

Mitch Jones, managing director of policy and litigation at Food & Water Watch, said in a statement: "This summer sent the clearest message yet that our world is on fire. The only solution is to end the era of fossil fuels, period."

"Unfortunately, the White House is trying to convince us that they are working hard to put out the fire while they continue pouring gasoline on it," Jones added.

Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that "President Biden's U.N. speech rightly recognized the climate dangers of fossil fuels, but Biden ignored his own immense powers to get us off them."

"As leader of the world's largest oil and gas producer, Biden has more power than anyone to rein in the fossil fuels wreaking havoc from Lahaina to Libya," Su continued. "We can't begin to tackle global development goals addressing poverty, famine, and lack of economic opportunity without confronting the climate crisis that intertwines with all of them. Biden must use this moment on the world stage to declare a climate emergency and halt expansion of the fossil fuels raining down chaos on our planet."

Biden also disappointed many activists by opting to not attend this week's U.N. Climate Ambition Summit, which is set to take place Wednesday in New York City. Jeff Ordower, the North American director of, called Biden's decision a "betrayal."

"I think the reality now is that Biden hasn't been the climate president that he had promised," Alice Hu, senior climate campaigner at New York Communities for Change, toldNPR on Sunday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Manhattan to demand an end to fossil fuels and a presidential climate emergency declaration.

Jones asserted that "the massive climate demonstrations we saw this weekend in New York and around the world should serve as a wake-up call to President Biden and other world leaders: The time for talking about climate action is over. We need to end the era of fossil fuels now—and that starts with the White House making climate commitments that finally match their rhetoric."

"We need the White House to stop approving fossil fuel drilling permits, to reject new pipelines and power plants, and to use the executive powers that would come with the declaration of a climate emergency," he added. "Instead of exhorting other countries to step up, President Biden should lead by example."

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