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China surpasses US as world’s top energy consumer
Question of the Day
Sensitive to its status as the world’s biggest polluter, China has long pointed fingers at developed nations in climate change talks and resists any label that could increase international pressure for it to take a larger role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States still consumes more energy and oil per capita than China. But China’s faster-than-expected shift has global consequences for markets and the environment, reflecting its transformation from a nation of subsistence farmers to one of workers increasingly trading their popular bicycles for cars and buying air conditioners and other energy-hungry home electronics.
The consumption level, reached despite the global economic downturn, left China in an awkward spot: It is eager to be seen as an economic juggernaut and a major player on the international stage, but also insists it’s a developing nation that deserves to industrialize.
Some environmentalists are cautiously optimistic about what China’s new status could mean for the planet, pointing out that it has spearheaded research and development into renewable energy. The IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, said China is the world’s leader in wind and solar power.
China’s total 2009 consumption, including energy sources ranging from oil and coal to wind and solar power, was equal to 2.265 billion tons of oil, compared with 2.169 billion tons used by the U.S., the IEA said.
China’s energy consumption has more than doubled in less than a decade, from 1.107 billion tons in 2000 _ driven by its burgeoning population and economic growth that hit 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2010. Per capita, the U.S. still consumes five times more energy than China, Birol said.
The surge in energy consumption has turned China into the biggest source of climate-changing greenhouse gases. The government has pledged to curb the growth in its emissions, but has refused to adopt binding curbs. It has maintained that pollution is an unavoidable consequence of industrialization.
“IEA’s data on China’s energy use is unreliable,” said official Zhou Xian, adding that the agency did not understand China’s efforts to cut energy use and emissions, specifically its new-energy development.
“The trend is undeniable that the Chinese energy consumption is growing very strongly” while use in the U.S., Europe and Japan was stagnating, he said.
Birol emphasized that China’s appetite for energy is consistent with the rise in its 1.3 billion-strong population and the growth of its manufacturing-based economy, which churns out half the world’s supply of steel and is also a top producer of aluminum _ another fuel-hungry industry.
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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