Presidents Obama, Xi forge ahead on climate

The U.S. and China will sign the Paris agreement on climate change on Earth Day, April 22, the first day that governments are permitted to put their signatures to the landmark accord.

The leaders of the world’s two largest economies already are looking ahead: President Obama and President Xi Jinping have agreed to formally join the agreement as early as possible this year, and to work together on significant climate change actions, including reducing emissions from airplanes and other issues not covered by the Paris agreement.

Obama and Xi also plan to press the leaders of the world’s leading economies on climate action at the G20 meeting September 4–5 in Hangzhou, China.

This commitment “sends a strong signal” to countries around the world, said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The U.S. and China together produce about 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.

Global commitment

The two nations surprised the world in fall 2014 by jointly announcing their respective targets to combat climate change. The U.S. pledged to reduce its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and make best efforts to peak early.

Since then, countries representing almost 99 percent of global emissions signed on to individual climate plans, and 196 countries adopted the Paris agreement on climate change in December 2015. The accord, based on national plans, will take force once 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions sign on.

More than 100 heads of state and other high-level government officials are expected to travel to New York City for the Earth Day signing ceremony, an unprecedented display of momentum for the agreement.

Brian Deese, the White House special adviser on climate change, says this moment is significant. “We are not going to wait, not just sign on the first day, but join much more quickly than has been historical practice.”