Kerry is in Beijing for the United States-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a bilateral series of negotiations that involve top-ranking officials from both countries. The two countries struck deals on eight climate-change projects this week, and China agreed to set more stringent emissions standards for vehicles and greenhouse gases.
"This effort has to be mutual," Kerry said Thursday. "It’s not about one country making a demand of the other. It’s the science itself demanding action from all of us, and in that regard, we stepped up together in the last two days."
Of the eight agreements signed this week, four of them are joint carbon capture and utilization projects, and the other four are smart-grid efforts aimed at reducing electricity consumption. That's key for China, which the International Energy Agency says will still account for 60 percent of coal growth over the next five years despite taking more stringent measures to move away from it.
The Obama administration has placed significant emphasis on getting climate buy-in from China now. The agreements reached this week build on a set of climate accords the two nations reached last year, which the administration hopes leads to steeper commitments heading into pivotal international climate negotiations in Paris next year.
President Obama is leaning on the twin power plant rules -- one for existing facilities, the other for new ones -- his Environmental Protection Agency announced within the last year as a model for other nations to follow heading into those talks. Countries there will seek to sign a pact to curb emissions enough by 2020 to avert a 2 degree Celsius global temperature rise by century's end.
"It is our hope that this work between China and the United States can help to set a mark, a standard and an example for the rest of the world," Kerry said of the upcoming climate talks.
Republicans have slammed the regulations as handcuffing the economy by raising energy prices. They say the greenhouse gas reductions in the U.S. will matter little for global climate change if big polluters like China and India don't commit to similar measures.
"Greenhouse gas is really about posturing the president to be perceived as a leader in the international community on climate change. But yet most polls, and you talk to people particularly from developing countries, climate change is not their number one issue," Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told the Washington Examiner recently.
China and India have balked at previous climate treaties, most notably the Kyoto Protocol. At the time, those countries argued carbon caps would prevent millions of their citizens from rising out of poverty. The Senate refused to ratify the treaty, largely because India and China were exempted from making emissions cuts.
On that note, Kerry said that the effort on climate change "has to be accompanied by commitments which are defined by the actions that we will actually take."