In a historic move that adds life to international climate negotiations, the US and China have jointly committed to undertake significant actions to combat climate change. 

As announced by President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, the United States intends to set an economy-wide target of reducing CO2 emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.  Most notably, China stated its intent to peak its CO2 emissions around 2030 (if not sooner), which marks the first time the Chinese have indicated a willingness to cap their carbon emissions. 

China will also boost the share of non-fossil fuel energy in its national energy portfolio to around 20 percent by 2030. 

The Agreement by the two largest emitting countries – responsible for 45 percent of global emissions – sets the tone for upcoming climate negotiations and raises the prospect of significant increases in renewable energy use and development of low-carbon technologies in both countries.

US accelerates its commitment to curb GHG emissions

The Agreement solidifies President Obama’s commitment to take an aggressive stance domestically and internationally to combat climate change.  The US proposal marks a significant commitment to accelerate the pace of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions.  The US is already on target to meet its pledge at the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen to reduce its GHG emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.  The current proposal seeks to reduce emissions at the rate of an additional 2.3 percent to 2.8 percent per year from 2020-2025. 

While ambitious, the proposal does not dramatically alter the country’s current trajectory, as it would likely build on current efforts to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act.  Provided future administrations continue President Obama’s efforts to curb GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act, the announcement is largely in line with the government’s suite of climate policies and regulations.  Such regulations include the proposed Clean Air Act § 111(d) regulations to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by about 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. 

Boost for international climate negotiations

The bilateral announcement marks a significant boost to international climate negotiations slated for December 1-13 in Lima, Peru, where representatives from across the globe will seek to draft a framework for the first truly global climate change agreement to be agreed upon in December 2015 in Paris.  Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will work to develop terms and obligations applicable to all countries under a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.  Given that most parties are expected to announce their planned “contributions” (i.e., GHG reductions) by March 2015, this joint announcement raises ambition for all countries in hopes of a stronger collective contribution.