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By Eric Walsh and Julia Edwards WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will sign an executive order on Thursday that sets a goal for the U.S. government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025, the White House said. Although the federal government accounts for only 0.7 percent of net U.S. emissions, it is the single largest energy consumer in the United States, according to the White House. Meeting the goal would cut 21 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 levels, it said. Several large private-sector partners, including IBM, General Electric and Honeywell, also committed to cutting a combined 5 million metric tons. Obama has made fighting climate change a top priority in his final two years in office. The White House sees it as critical to his legacy. In November, Obama reached an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that set a goal of reducing overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China agreed to begin lowering its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, with the intention of trying to do so earlier. White House senior adviser Brian Deese said the federal government's share of greenhouse gas emissions in the overall U.S. economy is "modest," but said the announcement is significant. "The potential from this announcement, however, is significant both because we can drive substantial reductions across the entire federal footprint and because our efforts to do that leverage both innovation and investment in the private sector," Deese said on a call with reporters. The Environmental Protection Agency last year offered a Clean Power Plan that set deadlines for states to submit proposals to meet power plant carbon emission reduction goals. A dozen states, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana and Wyoming, sued the EPA last August, soon after the plan was unveiled, saying its use of a certain section of the Clean Air Act was illegal. The federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case on April 16. Obama's budget proposal for fiscal 2015, released last month, called for a 7 percent boost in funding for clean energy and a $4 billion fund to encourage U.S. states to make faster and deeper cuts to emissions from power plants. It also called for the permanent extension of tax credits used by the wind and solar power industries. (Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Dan Grebler)