Climate change goals 'wake-up call'
Commitments by the United States and China on tackling climate change should be a "wake-up call" for the UK that the global race for clean energy is on, campaigners said.
The bilateral announcement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions has been hailed as a major political breakthrough in the fight against climate change, after years of a stand-off between the world's two biggest polluters over action.
It means there are now commitments by the world's biggest economies - the US, the EU and China - to tackle emissions beyond 2020, although experts warn the moves are not yet enough to keep temperature rises below dangerous levels.
US president Barack Obama announced a goal to cut emissions by 26%-28% by 2025 compared with 2005 levels, ramping up ambition from earlier commitments to reduce greenhouse gases by 17% by 2020.
Chinese president Xi Jinping set a target for China's still-growing emissions to peak by 2030, or earlier if possible, and pledged to increase the share of energy that China would get from sources other than fossil fuels.
The EU has already announced plans to cut emissions by at least 40% on 1990 levels by 2030, as well as setting out ambitions for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
It is hoped the bilateral announcement by the US and China, made in Beijing, will drive momentum on action in the run-up to crunch talks on a new binding global climate deal in Paris next year.
UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: "These climate announcements from the US and China are a clear sign that major economies are serious about getting a global deal in Paris next year.
"The UK led the drive to achieve an ambitious new EU target, and others are now following the EU's lead and putting targets on the table.
"I'm looking forward to discussing with the US and China how we can achieve our shared goal of keeping the global temperature rise under 2C, and avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change."
Campaigners said the move also sent a clear message that the world was moving away from fossil fuels towards a low-carbon economy.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: "This is a major political breakthrough that many thought impossible. The world's biggest economies - China, the US and the EU - are now firmly set on a path towards a low-carbon economy and there's no looking back.
"The case for global co-operation around the transition to a low carbon economy, including huge opportunities for those willing to move decisively at home and to promote leadership abroad, is overwhelming."
He said the targets were not yet ambitious enough, and urged the EU to take the lead in ramping up action. He also warned against UK Government moves to curb onshore wind and solar farms and give tax breaks to fossil fuel exploration.
"For the UK government, this should be a wake-up call," he said.
"The global race to a clean energy future and its huge rewards is on, and it won't be won by pandering to the fossil fuel lobby and a minority of anti-wind and anti-solar Tory backbenchers.
"Slashing support for wind and solar isn't just bad for the climate, it's bad for Britain's economy and our place in the world."
WWF's global climate and energy initiative leader Samantha Smith said the targets announced by China and the US should be seen as "opening bids" not final numbers and all governments needed to step up the pace and scale of their commitments to the UN talks in Paris.
"They could start at the G20 meeting this weekend, by announcing an end to the 88 billion US dollars (£55 billion) that each year goes to find more fossil fuels, the very things that are driving climate change," she said.
James Cameron, chairman of Climate Change Capital, the environmental investor and advisor, said: "The US-China deal on emissions is a further wake up call to the investment community that continuing to pour money into fossil fuel companies is being irresponsible to their own investors - the pension funds and the like - because they will be investing in what will become stranded assets, stuck in the ground with no chance of being exploited.
"The value of oil and coal companies will fall and we expect more managers to join the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation in pledging they are pulling out of 'dirty' investments."
"We now need to make the investment community feel comfortable with low carbon and the complexities involved."
The move was welcomed by the UN's top climate official, Christiana Figueres, who said it provided momentum towards a new deal in Paris.
"This joint announcement provides both practical and political momentum towards a new, universal climate agreement in Paris in late 2015 that is meaningful, forward-looking and recognises that combating climate change is not a five or 10-year plan but is a long-term commitment to keep a global temperature rise under 2C throughout this century," she said.
"This positive momentum opens the door for all major economies and in particular all other industrialised nations to bring forward their contributions to the Paris agreement in a timely fashion over the coming months.
"Investors have long called for policy certainty. Today's announcement is a firm and positive step towards that as we look towards Paris 2015."
Joss Garman, associate fellow on climate change at IPPR, said: " Those people telling us that climate change is not real or is not a problem are being left stranded in the wake of historical developments.
"For years, they've said we should not act because China is doing nothing, but now China is investing more in clean energy than the whole of Europe and their emissions will peak by 2030 at the latest.
"This deal kicks their legs out from under them. They'll soon be back with new disingenuous reasons for inaction, but they are increasingly submerged by facts on the ground."