Qu: How much oil do the Chinese use per capita? How does this compare with USA and Europe? What is their projected increase oil use in the next decade?
Thanks for this – very relevant to the question that gives the blog it’s name. Before jumping straight to the answer it’s important to recognise that there are two different metrics for measuring a country’s oil consumption: by population or by the total consumed. The chosen metric is important in the global debate over oil consumption and it’s worth looking at both to get a better picture.
Per capita energy consumption (Barrel/person/year)
United States - 68.81
United Kingdom - 30.18
European Union - 29.7
World - 12.55
China - 4.96
Total oil consumption (10/3/barrel/day)
United States – 20,588
United States – 20,588
China - 7,274
United Kingdom - 1,816 (Statistics from the EIA)
In light of these statistics it’s easy to see why nations with large populations, such as China, tend to promote the use of population-based metrics, while nations with large economies such as the United States would tend to promote the total consumption metric. Compared to the rest of the world, China’s oil use per capita is still relatively low – especially when you look at the US’s whopping 68.81 barrels per person per year. But when you look at their consumption per year it is relatively high (second in line to the US in a study of 15 nations).
What about the projected increase? To get some perspective it’s useful to look at past growth in demand before looking to the future. The increase in Chinese oil consumption is mostly seen as a recent development, supposedly driven by the industrial development of China. In reality, the growth in Chinese oil consumption has been the same in the past two decades. Between 1990 and 1999 annual oil consumption growth in China was 6% on average. Between 2000 and 2006 the average annual oil consumption growth in China was 7%. Also the 2004 anomaly of 13% growth in a single year is nothing new. In 1993 Chinese oil consumption growth reached 10%.
Figure 1 – Chinese oil consumption and production, source: EIA
Between 1990 and 1999, absolute growth was around 2 million barrels per day (mb/d), from 2.3 mb/d in 1990 to 4.4 mb/d in 1999. In the past seven years, absolute growth has been 3 mb/d per day according to preliminary figures, from 4.4 mb/d in 1999 to 7.36mb/d in 2006. If this present trend continues, the demand for oil (and other liquid fuels) in China will grow to 9.2 mb/d in 2010 and 12.4 mb/d in 2015.
Figure 2 – Growth trend in Chinese oil consumption
Worryingly China’s own oil production increasingly falls short of the country’s needs. The global production of oil has been stable for a few years and will shortly be falling. This could result in conflict between nations for what remains, rising prices and economic recession or worse. It will also increase the incentive to use coal, which could be catastrophic for the climate. Predictions about China’s projected use of oil in the next decade therefore are subject to so many unknowns that they have an air of fantasy.
Any more climate change questions?