The U.S. and China Just Struck a Historic Climate Change Deal

The U.S. and China Just Struck a Historic Climate Change Deal

President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled ambitious new targets for greenhouse gas reductions at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Beijing on Tuesday night. According to the New York Times, the two leaders had been in secret negotiations for months.

According to the Associated Press, "the U.S. set a new target to reduce its emissions of heat-trapping gases by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels." Earlier in his presidency, had Obama set a goal to cut emissions by 17% by 2020, compared to 2005.

For China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, this is the government's first-ever far-reaching agreement to cap its rapidly growing carbon emissions by 2030, according to the Washington Post. China also committed to increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to 20% of the country’s energy mix by the same year.

It's a historic deal for both countries. According to the Associated Press, the announcement was timed with the hope of spurring other countries to set targets ahead of a global climate treaty scheduled for 2015 in Paris. 

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the agreement Tuesday in a statement. "Today, China and the United States have demonstrated the leadership that the world expects of them," said Ban. "This leadership demonstrated by the Governments of the world’s two largest economies will give the international community an unprecedented chance to succeed at reaching a meaningful, universal agreement in 2015."

White House officials told the New York Times the agreement, which was "worked out secretly between the United States and China over nine months and included a letter from Obama to Xi proposing a joint approach," could help galvanize international efforts toward fighting climate change.

Apart from the new emissions caps, the U.S. and China have agreed to expand joint clean energy research and development initiatives, advance major carbon capture and storage projects, explore trends for building climate-smart cities, according to a White House statement.

"In climate diplomacy, as in life, you have to start at the beginning, and this breakthrough marks a fresh beginningm" wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in the New York Times on the deal. "Two countries regarded for 20 years as the leaders of opposing camps in climate negotiations – have come together to find common ground, determined to make lasting progress on an unprecedented global challenge. Let’s ensure that this is the first step toward a world that is more prosperous and more secure."

Unfortunately, it may be hard for the U.S. to deliver on its end of the climate pledge after midterm U.S. elections gave control over Congress to the Republican Party last week.

Editors Note: Mar. 3, 2015 

An earlier version of this article cited Associated Press reporting, but did not include quotations around the cited passage. The story has been updated to fully attribute the Associated Press' language.