The US and China – together responsible for 40% of the world’s carbon emissions – have both formally joined the Paris global climate agreement.
After arriving with other leaders of G20 nations for a summit in the city of Hangzhou, Mr Obama said: “History will judge today’s effort as pivotal.”
CO2 emissions are the driving force behind climate change. Last December, countries agreed to cut emissions in a bid to keep the global average rise in temperatures below 2C.
The Paris deal is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement. It will only come into force legally after it is ratified by at least 55 countries, which between them produce 55% of global carbon emissions.
Members of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee adopted “the proposal to review and ratify the Paris Agreement” on Saturday morning at the end of a week-long session.
However, analysts warn that the target of keeping temperature rises below 2C is already in danger of being breached.
For 14 consecutive months meteorologists have recorded the hottest month on record, and the UK’s Met Office has forecast that 2016 is likely to hit temperatures 1.1C above pre-industrial levels.
Average temperatures worldwide are likely to increase more in the coming years as the effect of previous carbon emissions makes itself felt.