Julie Bishop has told world leaders Australia is committed to climate change action but green groups say her UN address was disappointing.

Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio called it humankind’s greatest challenge and US President Barack Obama said it trumped terrorism as the single biggest security challenge of the modern age.

But Julie Bishop used decidedly less emotional language when she addressed world leaders at a major United Nations climate change summit in New York.

The foreign minister assured world leaders that Australia still takes the threat of climate change seriously and is taking practical actions to get emissions down – despite the scrapping of Labor’s carbon price.

Ms Bishop trumpeted the Abbott government’s so-called Direct Action climate policy and its centrepiece Emissions Reduction Fund.

“We are striking the responsible balance of safeguarding economic growth while taking action on climate change,” she said in her brief speech.

Ms Bishop said Australia looked forward to an “enduring” global climate change agreement being reached next year. But she certainly did not heed summit host UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s call for “bold” new climate change initiatives.

The Climate Institute called Ms Bishop’s statement “disappointing”.

“Australia risks being bogged in the backwaters as other countries and capital move in on serious climate actions, investment and opportunities,” institute CEO John Connor said.

Almost 130 heads of government attended the climate summit, the biggest leaders’ meeting on the issue since the Copenhagen summit broke down in acrimony in 2009.

But there were some notable absences, including the leaders of major emitters China and India.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott also decided not to attend, despite arriving in New York a day later for talks on Islamic State and terrorism.

DiCaprio brought star power to the summit, urging leaders to stop treating climate change like fiction.

“As an actor, I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems,” he said.

“I believe mankind has looked at climate change in that same way – as if it were fiction.”

The Titanic and Wolf of Wall Street actor called on countries to put a price on climate and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

“Now it is your turn,” he told leaders. “The time to answer humankind’s greatest challenge is now. We beg of you to face it with courage and honesty.”

President Obama said the climate was changing faster than the world’s efforts to address it.

“For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week – terrorism, instability, inequality, disease – there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” he said.

“And that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”

The UN summit was aimed at building momentum in climate negotiations ahead of the next major meeting in Paris in 2015.