Barack Obama hails ‘historic’ China emissions deal

US president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping drink a toast. Picture: AP

US president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping drink a toast. Picture: AP

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A GROUNDBREAKING agreement by the United States and China is putting the world’s two worst polluters on a faster track to curbing heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.

With the clock ticking on a worldwide climate treaty, the two countries are seeking to put their history as environmental adversaries behind them in the hope other nations will take equally aggressive action.

The US is setting an ambitious goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. China is agreeing for the first time to a deadline for when its emissions will stop rising.

The dual announcements in Beijing yesterday shocked environmentalists who had feared China’s reluctance and US president Barack Obama’s weakened political standing might make it impossible.

Republican politicians in the US were equally surprised and accused the US president of dumping an unrealistic obligation on his successor.

Following an intense two days of talks, Mr Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping unveiled agreements on climate change, military co-operation and trade as they sought to overcome persistent tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

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Mr Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US emissions by between 26 per cent and 28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. China did not set a specific target but said emissions would peak by 2030.

It is the first time China, the world’s biggest polluter, has set an approximate date for emissions to peak.

The two countries together produce about 45 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide.

The unexpected announcement is a bid to boost efforts to secure a global deal on reducing emissions after 2020, to be finalised next year in Paris.

The two countries also agreed to reduce the possibility of military accidents in the air or at sea.

But areas of discord still bubbled to the surface during their rare joint press conference in the heart of the Chinese capital.

Mr Obama gently pressed Mr Xi on human rights and rejected rumours the US was fuelling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, while the Chinese president repeatedly reminded his American guest that his nation wanted to be seen as an equal to the US.

As he ended his first visit to China in six years, Mr Obama said he and Mr Xi had reached a “common understanding on how the relationship between our two countries should move forward”.

“Where we have disagreements, we will be candid about our intentions, and we will work to narrow those differences where possible,” Mr Obama said shortly before departing for Burma, his second stop on a three-country trip through the Asia-Pacific region.

Both Mr Obama and Mr Xi heralded a joint commitment to cut greenhouse gases, an agreement that came about after months of secret talks between officials from both countries. The pact is meant to signal to other heavy-polluting nations that the US and China are in sync on the need to tackle climate change in the lead-up to the summit in Paris next year.

The two leaders also announced an agreement to have their militaries give each other more guidance about their activities in the Pacific – a step deemed necessary after US and Chinese aircraft have come dangerously close in the region.

In addition, they touted a breakthrough in trade talks to reduce tariffs on high-tech goods, as well as a deal to extend the lengths of visas granted to US and Chinese citizens.

White House officials had been pressing their Chinese counterparts for weeks to allow reporters to ask questions of the two leaders.

The Chinese government, which keeps tight control of the media in the country, agreed just hours before the event to allow a question from one reporter from each country.

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