Tensions between Beijing and Washington have soared in recent months with the two sides trading barbs on China’s human rights record and its initial handling of the coronavirus.
Tackling climate change is among a handful of issues where the two sides had struck notes of harmony.
But Beijing has in recent months emphasised that environmental cooperation could be hurt by deteriorating Sino-US relations.
Kerry told journalists on Thursday evening that the United States has made it “clear that the addition of more coal plants represents a significant challenge to the efforts of the world to deal with the climate crisis.”
Chinese plans for new coal plants could “undo the capacity of the world to reach net-zero by 2050”, he said, adding that they had “very constructive” talks but he was also “very direct” on the topic.
Despite pledges to peak coal consumption before 2030, China brought 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired power into operation last year — more than three times what was brought on line globally.
China has challenged the United States to fix relations with Beijing in order to make progress on climate change.
But Kerry urged Beijing not to let environmental cooperation be affected by tensions between the world’s two biggest polluters.
“Climate is not ideological,” he said. “It is a global challenge.”
“It is essential… no matter what differences we have, that we have to address the climate crisis.”
Foreign minister Wang Yi had told Kerry earlier in the visit that cooperation on global warming could not be disentangled from broader diplomacy between the two countries.
In a video call with the United States climate envoy, Wang accused Washington of a “major strategic miscalculation towards China”, according to the ministry statement.
“It is impossible for China-US climate cooperation to be elevated above the overall environment of China-US relations,” Wang said.
He added that “the ball is now in the United States’ court, and the US should stop seeing China as a threat and opponent”.
– ‘China can do more’ – At an earlier virtual meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng on Thursday, Kerry said “there is no way for the world to solve the climate crisis without the full engagement and commitment” of China, according to a US State Department spokesperson.
The US envoy has repeatedly urged China, the world’s largest polluter, to step up its efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
“We have consistently said to China and other countries.. to do there best within their given capacity,” Kerry said.
“We think that China can do more.”
China is the world’s current largest emitter of carbon dioxide, followed by the United States, which has historically emitted more than any other country to date.
While China has promised to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060, the country continues to be heavily dependent on coal, which fuels nearly 60 percent of its energy consumption.