A new preliminary report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) put China at the top of the world in terms of energy consumption as of 2009. While the report was challenged by China’s government at the time, the findings have been confirmed. China’s energy consumption more than doubled from 2000 to 2010. During that same period, the U.S. actually saw a slight decline in energy usage
The data for 2009 showed that the U.S. used the equivalent of 2169 million barrels of oil to power the country, China used 2265 million. The biggest problem with using the study to gauge an environmental impact is that it doesn’t break down the sources of energy. For instance, 70% of all energy production in China is currently coal based. For the most part, they don’t employ clean coal technology, so this leads to serious air pollution and carbon dioxide emission.
Interestingly, what many people who view the report as “dangerous” or an “indication of more pollution to come,” don’t factor in to these numbers is that the population in China is vastly larger than most other countries on the plant, which makes their consumption per capita still far below other first world countries like the U.S. The U.S. uses over three times as much energy per capita as China and likely will for the next few years. The actual numbers are 6.5 tons of oil equivalents per capita for the U.S. and 1.69 tons for China. If the current rate of increase continues in China and the decline continues in the U.S., the Chinese per capita use will overcome the U.S. rate by around 2040.
The biggest question mark in this entire scenario is whether or not China is willing to scale back on energy use or to find new ways to reduce their emissions to prevent pollutants from entering the atmosphere is an exponentially faster rate. The answer right now appears to be no.
China’s leaders have refused to cap their overall fossil fuel consumption growth or reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The compromise, if we can call it one, that China has set forth is that they will target a reduced emission intensity. Basically, they will try to become more efficient by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of gross domestic product. The target numbers are a reduction by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, using 2005 as the base value. While it isn’t much, it is a small step in the right direction.
The real news coming out of this revelation is that China is going to drive up the costs of traditional fuels like coal and oil by increasing demand. This should help the alternative fuel industry in the U.S. as pricing will start to become competitive. Unfortunately, the fossil fuels will still be burned – just not in the U.S. That takes a large amount of control for the global environment away from the U.S. and puts it squarely on China – and China doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about the environment.
What do you think? With China being the number one energy consumer in the world, are we doomed to a future of global warming?