China has overtaken the United States as the world's largest consumer of energy, according to data from Paris-based International Energy Agency, a landmark that has implications for oil prices and U.S. global energy policy.
News reports citing data from the IEA said China consumed the equivalent of 2.25 billion tons of oil last year, slightly above U.S. consumption of 2.17 billion tons. The measure includes all types of energy: oil, nuclear energy, coal, natural gas and renewable energy sources.
IEA chief economist Fatih Birol told the The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the milestone marks "a new age in the history of energy."
China's government rejected the IEA's statistics.
In 2000, the United States, the world's largest economy, consumed twice as much energy as China, but China, which is the world's third-largest economy, now consumes more than the United States, the Financial Times report quoted Birol as saying.
China's rise to the top ranking was faster than had been expected in part because the United States has outpaced China in improving energy efficiency measures over the past decade, the paper said. During the period, the United States had improved efficiency in energy use by 2.5 percent annually while China only managed 1.7 percent annual improvement.
China's energy demand growth has largely braved the global financial crisis that hit the United States and Europe.
China's government rejected the IEA report. "IEA's data on China's energy use is unreliable," said Zhou Xian, an official with the Chinese Cabinet's National Energy Administration, quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency.
China's energy demand has surged amid rapid economic growth and the communist government is sensitive to complaints it is pushing up prices on global markets and adding to pollution and emissions of climate-changing gases.
Xinhua cited data from China's National Bureau of Statistics that said China's energy consumption last year was equal to 2.132 billion tons of oil, less than the figure cited by the Paris-based IEA.
According to Xinhua, Zhou said the IEA "still lacked understanding about China's relentless efforts to cut energy use and emissions, notably the country's aggressive expansion of new energy development."
China has invested heavily in hydroelectric dams, wind turbines and nuclear power plants in an attempt to cut rising reliance on imported oil and gas, which its leaders see as a national security risk.