U.S. and China formally join the Paris climate change agreement

Paris Agreement

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama applaud as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers a speech during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement at the West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Saturday, Sept. 3. (How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP)

On Sept. 3, U.S. President Barack Obama and China's President, Xi Jinping, formally agreed to participation in the negotiated 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change.

Obama and Xi, representing the world's two biggest carbon emitters, delivered a series of documents certifying the U.S. and China have taken necessary steps to join the COP 21 Paris accord that set nation-by-nation targets for reducing carbon emissions.

"This is not a fight that any one country, no matter how powerful, can take alone," Obama said. "Some day we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet."

Xi said he hoped other countries would follow suit and advance new technologies to help them meet their targets. "When the old path no longer takes us far, we should turn to innovation," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers his speech during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at the West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Saturday, Sept. 3. (How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP)

The formal U.S.-Chinese announcement means the accord could enter force by the end of the year, if by then, two conditions are met: The needed 55-nation ratification level is met and in total, the nations that join must produce at least 55% of global emissions.

Combined, the U.S. and China produce 38% of the world's man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

The White House has attributed the accelerated pace to an unlikely partnership between Washington and Beijing. To build momentum for a deal, they set a 2030 deadline for China's emissions to stop rising and announced their "shared conviction that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity." The U.S. has pledged to cut its emissions by at least 26% over the next 15 years, compared to 2005 levels.

Under the Paris agreement, countries are required to set national targets for reducing or reining in their GHG. The targets are not legally binding, but countries must report on their progress and update their targets every five years.

Xi said he acted after China's legislature voted on Sept. 3 to formally enter the agreement. In the U.S., Senate ratification is not required because the agreement is not considered a formal treaty.

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