Less than two months after UN Secretary-General brought world leaders together to raise the political will for a new climate agreement and to catalyse climate action, the leaders of China and the United States, the world’s two biggest economies, committed to ambitious new goals.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the announcement.

“Today, China and the United States have demonstrated the leadership that the world expects of them,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman said in a statement. “The joint announcement signals that the transition towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient future is accelerating.”

Mr. Ban urged all countries to follow their lead and announce ambitious post-2020 targets as soon as possible, but not later than the first quarter of 2015.

The joint agreement states that the US intends to reduce its carbon emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below its 2005 level in 2025 “and to make best efforts” to cut its emissions by 28 per cent, the countries said in a joint statement issued from Beijing, where U.S. President Barack Obama met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jingping, on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

For its part, China intends for its CO2 emissions to peak by “around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early,” the statement said. In addition, it intends to boost the use of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to “around” 20 per cent by 2030.

In an apparent reference to the plummeting price of solar and wind energy – to a level that is increasingly competitive with the cost of coal – the statement noted that “economic evidence makes increasingly clear that smart action on climate change now can drive innovation, strengthen economic growth and bring broad benefits – from sustainable development to increased energy security, improved public health and a better quality of life.”

The statement noted that the two Presidents had “resolved to work closely together over the next year to address major impediments to reaching a successful global climate agreement.”

Countries have promised that they will reach a new climate agreement in Paris in December 2015.

In preparation for the 2015 agreement, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released negotiating texts for the upcoming Lima climate conference, including a draft decision on how nations will deliver their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, known as INDCs, to the Paris agreement.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said “This joint announcement provides both practical and political momentum towards a new, universal climate agreement in Paris in late 2015 that is meaningful, forward-looking and recognizes that combating climate change is not a five- or 10-year plan—but is a long-term commitment to keep a global temperature rise under 2 degrees throughout this century.”
Limiting the rise in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is expected to limit the incidence of extreme weather events and other severe impacts of climate change.

“This positive momentum opens the door for all major economies and in particular all other industrialized nations to bring forward their contributions to the Paris agreement in a timely fashion over the coming months,” she added. “Investors have long called for policy certainty. Today’s announcement is a firm and positive step towards that as we look towards Paris 2015.”

The joint China-US statement follows last month’s announcement by the European Union that it will cut emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030.
“Together these announcements send a clear signal to the private sector and the financial markets on where global policy is now heading,” Figueres said. “Thus these announcements have the potential to unleash and accelerate the kinds of entrepreneurship and innovation needed to propel all economies towards ever greater levels of ambition—if not significantly exceeding their ambitions — en route to a low carbon, resilient world over coming years and decades.”

Parties to the UNFCCC will meet next month in Lima, Peru, to advance a draft agreement with the aim of adopting it during the Paris meeting, called the 21st Conference of the Parties.