09/18/2014 09:37 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2014

Meet You in Manhattan? Climate Activists Broaden Their Base

Tens of thousands of green activists are heading to New York City to march in solidarity on Sunday (September 21), in a prelude to a high profile climate change summit called by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Determined "to galvanize and catalyze climate action" at the New York summit, he challenged heads of state to "innovate, scale up, cooperate, and deliver concrete action that will close the emissions gap and put us on track for an ambitious legal agreement."

Five years after COP-15, the climate conference in Copenhagen which saw developing nations and first world polluters blaming one another for a policy stalemate, is the public finally fed up with inaction on global warming from the world's leaders? The march's organizers, who have plastered metro and bus stations with posters and leaflets and unleashed a cyberblitz of publicity on social media, are optimistic. They estimate that as many as 500,000 participants could join a peaceful protest on the streets of Manhattan. With official New York Police parade permits on file, plans are for a non-confrontational and family-friendly weekend with no teargas polluting the air.

After the disappointment of the climate kerfuffle in Copenhagen, where a crowd of nearly 100,000 protestors had rallied until their ranks were thinned halfway through by some 900 arrests, there has been little perceivable progress to curb the world's reliance on dirty energy. Ultimately no binding commitments were made at Copenhagen; some blame the power of fossil fuels lobbyists and US National Security Agency surveillance. Consequently, the movement lost some momentum. Raising awareness was not enough. Scientists' predictions that more droughts, flooding, wildfires and extreme weather would ensue unless carbon emissions were scaled down have come true and the weather havoc makes headlines. (Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan were hard to ignore.) Half a decade on, the urgency to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, enough to stave off catastrophic climate change, continues to be a crucial concern.

How will the People's Climate March in New York City make any difference at all? UN climate change conferences often attract protests, ranging from the marches, pranks, and direct actions in Copenhagen, to walkouts by environmental NGOs in Warsaw, and entire alternative summits in Copenhagen and Cochabamba, Bolivia. One crucial factor in drawing a crowd sizeable enough to convince politicians to act is the high number of decision-makers attending this UN summit. Even though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be no-shows, the world press is expected to cover the New York meeting in full force. Further big protest marches will be staged in farflung cities, including Berlin, Bogota, Lagos, London, Melbourne, New Delhi, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Tanzania. Reaching out beyond the usual base of well-educated liberal supporters is a priority and ideas to engage new recruits to the movement are creative. Read more on China Dialogue, the innovative online journal where China and the world discuss the environment.