By Timothy Cama - 11/11/14 10:59 PM EST
President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed Wednesday that their countries would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The historic, unexpected deal commits each country to far-reaching goals to cap greenhouse gas emissions believed to cause global warming.
The United States will cut its emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the White House said.
China agreed that its emissions of Earth-warming gases would peak by 2030 or earlier, according to the White House.
Xi’s end of the deal represents the first time China has made any pledge to stop its rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions, the most of any country in the world. China has resisted calls for cuts, saying that as a developing country the pollution is necessary to its growth.
In a joint press conference with Xi in Beijing, Obama emphasized the historic nature of the pact and the impact on the world as a whole.
“As the world’s two largest economies, energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change,” he said.
He called the U.S. commitment “an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal,” that would help public health and the economy while creating jobs and providing many other benefits.
“This is a major milestone in the U.S.-China relationship and it shows what’s possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge,” Obama said.
He was also clear that he and Xi hope to pressure other major countries to come forth with deep emissions reduction plans.
“By making this announcement today, together, we hope to encourage all major economies to be ambitious,” he said.
The announcement from the White House was part of Obama’s trip to China, which also included agreements over tariffs, military conflict and visas. It was announced late Tuesday in the United States (Wednesday in China).
An administration official told The Washington Post that the White House expects the U.S.-China deal to energize the world’s major countries as they prepare to write a binding international agreement to cut climate change in Paris next year.
Both countries face political and economic pressure against the cuts. Any additional government action to cut carbon pollution in the U.S. is likely to face a tough fight in the newly Republican controlled Congress, and China is burning more and more coal each day.
But officials told the Post that they are confident that Obama has the power and ability to implement the necessary cuts to live up to the new agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted the deal as unrealistic, and said last week’s elections showed how unpopular Obama’s environmental policies are. Polling shows, however, that Americans favor Obama's environmental policies over the GOP's.
“Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners,” he said in a statement.
In an opinion piece published after the announcement in The New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry framed the deal as a landmark effort by the world’s two largest economies to fight climate change and spur the rest of the world to follow suit.
“The commitment of both presidents to take ambitious action in our own countries, and work closely to remove obstacles on the road to [the world summit in] Paris, sends an important signal that we must get this agreement done, that we can get it done, and that we will get it done,” he writes.
But from a diplomatic standpoint, Kerry said the deal is a major milestone in U.S.-China relations. “It was an effort inspired not just by our shared concern about the impact of climate change, but by our belief that the world’s largest economies, energy consumers, and carbon emitters have a responsibility to lead,” he writes.
Environmentalists applauded the deal as a historic step.
“These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
“We’re seeing the emergence of an enormously positive new dynamic between the U.S. and China: bilateral cooperation that includes specific actions within each country,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“As we look ahead to the Paris climate talks in late 2015, this level of cooperation between the two largest emitting nations is unprecedented — and essential,” he said.
Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, said the deal sends a strong signal to other countries.
“By acting together, the world's largest historical emitter and the globe’s current leading emitter have put the rest of the world on notice: Game on; it’s time to act,” he said.
— This post was updated at 12:14 a.m.