Washington, Nov. 12, 2014 – President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, surprised the world Wednesday by announcing a sweeping agreement to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a deal that Obama called a “major milestone” in the campaign to limit the effects of climate change.

According to the White House, the U.S. will aim to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. China, meanwhile, intends to achieve the “peaking” of those emissions by 2030 at the latest and boost the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20 percent by 2030. China is the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas polluter, followed by the U.S., with the two countries together accounting for more than a third of global emissions.

At a joint news conference with Xi in Beijing, where Obama was attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Obama said he hopes the agreement will jump-start negotiations among other countries and result in a global agreement to reduce emissions at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris late in 2015.

"We have a special responsibility to lead the world effort to combat global climate change," Obama said. "We hope to encourage all major economies to be ambitious."

The White House acknowledged that the U.S. will have to dramatically increase the pace of carbon reduction to meet the goals, but it said they can be met under existing laws. Still, Senator Barbara Boxer responded to Obama’s announcement by calling for immediate congressional action. The California Democrat and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said there is now no longer an excuse for Congress to block action  on climate change.

“The biggest carbon polluter on our planet, China, has agreed to cut back on dangerous emissions,” Boxer said in a statement. “Now we should make sure all countries do their part because this is a threat to the people that we all represent.”

In the past, Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, have resisted taking action on climate change, arguing, among other things, that U.S. efforts would be ineffective without action from China.

While the agreement announced Wednesday may undercut that argument, Inhofe, the top Republican on Boxer’s committee – and the man in line to take over the panel when the GOP assumes Senate leadership in the new Congress – is sure fight any U.S. move toward a global climate change agreement.

In a statement in August, Inhofe said the Senate would not ratify a treaty that binds the U.S. to a regulatory body at the U.N., and he vowed to continue to fight what he called Obama’s “economy-crushing domestic greenhouse-gas regulations.”

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