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Reflect on 'China's Responsibility' Theories
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: I think 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 a number of farmers 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.

China has to face up to its national conditions when it comes to energy supply, because China is among the world's few countries mainly depending on coal for energy. Developed countries have mainly depended on oil and natural gas.

In 2009, the consumption of coal, petroleum and natural gas in China respectively accounted for 69.6 percent, 19.2 percent and 3.8 percent of the country's total energy consumption.

In contrast, oil and gas consumption in the United States stood at 38.4 percent and 26.2 percent, respectively, 19.2 and 22.4 percentage points higher than the figures in China. In total, U.S. oil and gas consumption accounted for 64.6 percent of its energy consumption mix, 41.6 percentage points higher compared with 23 percent in China.

Even though it is not a producer of oil and gas, Japan is a large consumer of them, consuming 43.7 percent oil and 16.6 percent gas in 2009, 24.5 percentage points and 12.8 percentage points higher than in China. In total, Japan's oil and gas accounted for 60.3 percent of its energy consumption mix, 37.3 percentage points higher than China.

In 2009, China's overall energy consumption totaled 3.1 billion tons of coal equivalent, while its total energy production hit 2.8 billion tons. China's dependence on foreign energy was merely 9.67 percent compared with 26.76 percent in the United States and 32.06 percent among OECD members. Based on its energy composition features, China has solved its own energy demands and withstood greater environmental pressure. By doing so, China has actually contributed to the world's energy security.

As the economy grows, China's energy consumption will rise as well. What is your opinion in this regard?

As the most populous developing country, China is doing nothing wrong by increasing energy consumption—whether for economic development or for the improvement of people's living conditions.

In fact, China has always held a serious attitude with regard to rapidly rising consumption and regarded it as a challenge to its economic and social progress. China has tried to satisfy its domestic energy demand by making use of its domestic energy supply. Moreover, the country is making efforts to conserve energy and cut emissions, with an aim to improve its energy consumption structure and efficiency. China has encouraged the economic utilization of energy resources, especially in terms of the development and application of new energy technologies.

These efforts are paying off. China now leads the world in terms of hydropower installed capacity, utilization of solar water heaters, large nuclear power plants under construction, and increase in installed wind power.

Anyway, whether China is the world's largest energy consumer or not, it is sticking to the road of energy conservation, emissions reduction and developing new energy technologies in accordance with its own development level. This means China is responsible for its own people and also for the rest of the world.

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