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UPDATED: August 27, 2010 Web Exclusive
Is China Really the World’s Top Energy Consumer?

This year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) labeled China as the world's largest energy consumer even though its energy consumption in 2009 was lower than that of the United States, Wang Zhen, head of the School of Business Administration at the China University of Petroleum, said in an interview with People's Daily. Edited excerpts follow:

People's Daily: A report issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on July 19 says that China consumed 4 percent more than the United States in 2009 at 2.252 billion tons of oil equivalent, while the United States consumed 2.17 billion tons, concluding that China is "the world's top energy consumer." Do you think this conforms to the facts?

Wang Zhen: These statistics are unreliable. China's total energy consumption has indeed increased quickly in recent years due to its rapid economic growth. China consumed 3.1 billion tons of coal equivalent in 2009, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBS), while the International Energy Agency's statistic for 2009 is 3.22 billion tons, 120 million tons more than China's statistics.

Generally speaking, it's normal for there to be variations in the two assessments because of different ways of calculating energy consumption. However, the NBS has better access to China's energy consumption figures than the IEA, and its statistics are more accurate, more believable and more authoritative.

Although the variation is only 3 percent, within the acceptable range, it placed China in the world's top position for energy consumption. The fact is, however, China's energy consumption in 2009 was still slightly lower than that of the United States, because U.S. per-capita energy consumption is 4.5 times higher than China's.

Recently, some countries and international organizations have frequently baffled China in the area of energy issues. Could you talk about the real status quo of China's energy consumption?

China has in recent years paid a big price and made great sacrifices in order to ensure a stable energy supply and protect the ecological environment, and has been treated unjustly on this issue. Apart from frequently criticizing China's growing energy demands and carbon emissions, some countries and international organizations have even attributed surging global oil prices to China's imports, putting forward the theory of "China's energy consuming responsibility."

It is a misunderstanding to rebuke China for excessively high energy consumption. The overriding national condition of China is that China is the world's most populous nation, with a population much bigger than member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). If calculated on an average basis, China's per-capita energy consumption will turn out to be very small.

With a total population of 1.33 billion in 2009, China consumed a total of 3.1 billion tons of coal equivalent, with per-capita consumption of 2.33 tons. Most of the consumed energy is used in production, while only a small amount is directly used in people's living.

In 2009, China's per-capita energy consumption was less than 2.33 tons. People's daily energy consumption accounts for less than 10 percent of overall energy consumption. If we take into consideration the vast rural areas, China's per-capita energy consumption is even lower, because some farmers in the remote mountainous areas still have no access to electricity.

The U.S. population in 2009 was 300 million while, at the same time, the country's overall energy consumption reached 3.11 billion tons of coal equivalent. Thus, its per-capita energy consumption is 10.37 tons, 4.5 times that of China. In the process of large-scale international industrial transfer, high energy-consuming products that used to be made in the United States are being moved to China. U.S. per-capita daily energy consumption is much higher than that in China.

A stable energy supply and environmental protection is the duty of any country. Do you think China has fulfilled its related responsibilities?

Energy is a comprehensive concept. In terms of primary energy, there is coal, petroleum, natural gas, nuclear power, hydropower, wind power, solar power and biomass energy. Among these types of energy, petroleum and gas are high-quality clean energy, comparable to low-quality coal, which is conventional energy.

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