As speedy development and economic growth continue in China and much of Asia, energy consumption is skyrocketing. China in particular is endeavoring to find more ways to meet its growing energy needs, including contributing to a proposed pipeline from Canada’s controversial oil sands to the Pacific.

The so-called ‘golden age’ of natural gas is also approaching. Global demand for gas coupled with a dramatic rise in the exploration and extraction of natural gas deposits-aided by the growth of the dubious practice of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’-is changing the face of the energy industry. Though the shift from oil and nuclear to natural gas may make economic sense, it does not address looming environmental problems.

pic: lanchongzi (Flickr CC)

Though natural gas results in less CO2 emissions than oil, embracing gas instead of renewable energy means global ghg emissions continue to grow. Fracking also consumes huge amounts of water and uses dangerous chemicals, which can contaminate ground water.

According to Reuters, both energy consultant Wood MacKenzie and the president of China’s National Petroleum Corp. predict big, though differing, increases in China’s natural gas consumption by 2030. WM puts the increase at four fold, while CNPC sets it at threefold. China is also looking to implement fracking as part of its efforts to exploit domestic natural gas resources.

The IEA predicts a global 17% rise in gas consumption by 2017, with the largest increase (over 2 fold) coming from China.

The IEA report is quoted by Bloomberg:

Asia will be by far the fastest growing region, driven primarily by China, which will emerge as the third-largest gas user by 2013. Europe looks for a floor and Americas for a ceiling.

According to a recent UNEP report, the Asia-Pacific region’s CO2 output is also set to continue to balloon.

From Business Standard:

Under a business as usual scenario, the Asia-Pacific was expected to contribute approximately 45 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030 and an estimated 60 percent by 2100, the report said.

Tianjin, China. Pic: Yang Aijun / World Bank

Though both individual (per capita) energy consumption in China (and the developing world in general) is far lower than in developed countries, this is also set to change as lifestyles become more ‘Western’ and energy-intensive. For example, buildings in the US and Japan consume far more energy than those in China, despite the former countries’ superior insulation and more efficient climate control. Habits and personal standards in China are simply more energy saving.

From China Dialogue:

In China, energy-consuming appliances – most importantly clothing dryers – are less widely used and Chinese occupants are more willing to accept larger ranges of temperature in their indoor environment. Utility bills also make up a greater proportion of disposable income, which encourages people to save money by saving energy.

The more expensive and modern buildings in China’s cities already reflect levels of energy consumption comparable to those in, for example, New York.

For this problem at least, the adaption of LEED certification in China could mitigate the inevitable steep rise in energy consumption, but its going to take more than energy efficient light bulbs to address the coming energy, water and climate crises.