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Obama announces groundbreaking US-China climate agreement

The sweeping new agreement, achieved after months of secret negotiations, includes commitments by China to stop its emissions from growing entirely after 2030.

The U.S. and China announced late Tuesday that the two nations -- which together account for over one third of all greenhouse gas pollution -- have reached a groundbreaking deal to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the growing crisis of global climate change.

The sweeping agreement, achieved after months of secret negotiations, includes a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing entirely after 2030. The U.S. would double its pace of carbon reduction from 1.2% a year through 2020 to 2.3-2.8% a year afterward, ultimately cutting its total greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025.

"This is a major milestone," President Obama said at a joint press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping. "This is an ambitious goal, but this is an achievable goal."

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

To achieve the goal of receiving 20% of its total energy consumption from zero-emission sources by 2030, the agreement will require China to increase its nuclear, wind and solar generation capacity by up to 1,000 gigawatts -- more than the total energy produced by all the coal-fired power plants in China today.

The agreement, which comes amid President Obama's attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing, marks a major milestone for U.S.-China relations, as well as for the Obama administration, which has made climate change a key priority over the last six years. The new actions are likely to reinvigorate the domestic debate over environmental regulations, which have come under attack by Republicans in the wake of their electoral victories in last Tuesday's midterm elections.

"Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal," Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a statement given to The Hill on Tuesday night. "This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs."

"The president said his policies were on the ballot, and the American people spoke up against them," McConnell added, suggesting that the president's climate change agenda had been rejected at the polls last week.

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Democrats, meanwhile, hailed the climate agreement as a major environmental breakthrough. 

"Now there is no longer an excuse for Congress to block action on climate change," declared California Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement released late Tuesday night. "The biggest carbon polluter on our planet, China, has agreed to cut back on dangerous emissions, and now we should make sure all countries do their part because this is a threat to the people that we all represent."

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley called the climate deal "an important step forward" in a statement to NBC News. "The economic security of American middle class families depends on tackling climate change, which is why today's announcement that the two largest economies in the world are committing together to cutting carbon pollution is so important."

"The United States and China have just turned the international climate change negotiation on its head," Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, told NBC News.

INFOGRAPHIC: Visualizing CO2 emissions by country and state

The White House said it hoped the landmark deal would help advance negotiations between the U.S. and China ahead of a potential worldwide agreement on climate levels in Paris next year. The two nations remain a step behind the European Union, which earlier this year committed to reduce its emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.