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China, however, is trying to cut its rising reliance on imported oil and gas, which it considers a national security risk, by investing heavily in hydroelectric dams, wind turbines and nuclear power plants. Still, coal, oil and natural gas are expected to account for most of China’s energy supplies for decades to come.

According to IEA statistics, more than half of China’s total energy in 2009 came from coal, a heavy polluter that accounts for less than a quarter of U.S. consumption. China’s coal reserves are among the world’s largest but much of that is high-sulfur “brown coal” that produces sulfur dioxide, a component in acid rain, when burned.

Oil _ the No. 1 energy source in the U.S., accounting for nearly half the total _ made up less than a fifth of the Chinese energy total, the IEA said. But that could change as more Chinese trade their bicycles _ historically the country’s dominant form of transportation _ for cars.

Last year, China passed the U.S. as the biggest auto market by number of vehicles sold and supplanted Germany as the biggest exporter. Passenger vehicle sales in China jumped from 326,000 in 1995 to 8.7 million in 2009, according to J.D. Power and Associates. That number is expected to soar to 13.5 million vehicles in 2015.

China is going across the world on the hunt for oil. State-owned Chinese energy companies have forged multibillion-dollar deals in Central Asia, Africa and Latin America to secure access to oil and gas supplies. Chinese companies are major players in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq’s oil industry.

As it pursues energy sources, the communist government is also in the midst of a five-year campaign to cut the amount of energy consumed for each unit of economic output by 20 percent from 2005 levels. The government said this month it has reached the 16 percent mark after shutting down outmoded power plants, steel mills and other facilities.

It is China’s green efforts, such as nationwide renewable energy targets, that has some environmentalists hopeful.

“We have substantive hopes in China, to be honest, that China will take the lead … to make the low-carbon economy, the high energy efficiency economy a reality in the coming years,” said Stephan Singer, the head of energy policy for the WWF environmental group.

“That’s not the case in the U.S., unfortunately,” he said. “We would need to see similar or even stronger targets there” in the U.S.


Associated Press writer Joe McDonald in Beijing and Chris Kahn in New York contributed to this report.