China and the USA, two of the the world’s most polluting nations, have committed to further carbon gas emission cuts, boosting the global fight against climate change.
According to the announcement, made during a visit of US President Barack Obama in China on Wednesday, the US will raise its emission reduction target to up to 28 per cent compared to the 2005 situation instead of the current 17 per cent goal.
China, whose greenhouse gas emission production is still rising as the country continues to build new coal-fired power plants to satisfy its growing energy demand, has pledged to reach the peak in carbon emissions by 2030.
Both countries committed to source 20 per cent of its energy from zero-carbon resources by 2030, which would require investment into renewable resources and nuclear power.
China is currently sourcing less than 10 per cent of its electricity from renewables.
Some experts have warned the announcement has mostly political significance as, at least in the US, it would have to win support from the Republican-dominated congress, which will certainly prove complicated. In spite of that, the move marks an important shift in the stance of the two countries and may add momentum to the global emission reduction drive ahead of the new global climate pact to be negotiated in Paris next year.
US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the new US emission cuts in a statement as part of Obama's "ideological war on coal", and said his priority in the new Congress was "easing the burden" of environmental regulations.
For China, currently responsible for about 30 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the targets add little to its existing commitments to wean itself off carbon, environmental experts said.
"The statement is an upbeat signal to motivate other countries but the timeline China has committed to is not a binding target," said Li Junfeng, an influential Chinese climate policy adviser linked to China's state planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.
The chosen peak date was also in line with forecasts already made by several state-backed think-tanks, with the China Academy of Social Sciences saying in a study last week that slowing rates of urbanisation would likely mean that industrial emissions would peak around 2025-2030 and start to fall by 2040.
China has only started taking the emission issue seriously in recent years in light of the widespread effects on health of the population and omnipresent problems with smog in its industrial areas, including capital Beijing.
According to US officials the announcement was a result of months of dialogue between the two countries.
"Today's announcement is the political breakthrough we've been waiting for," said Timothy E Wirth, former US Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs and vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation.
"If the two biggest players on climate are able to get together, from two very different perspectives, the rest of the world can see that it's possible to make real progress," he said in a statement.