World’s New Biggest Energy Hog: China

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China has surpassed the United States.

While foreign policy commentators generally agree that the “American Century,” in which much of the world bent to the will of the United States, has ended, they diverge over the nature of the new world order.

But by one standard, the “Chinese Century” may have just begun.

The International Energy Agency announced on July 20 that China has overtaken the United States as the world’s leading energy consumer. The displacement in the energy standings is based on the just-released statistics from 2009, and covers a broad range of energy consumption, from oil to solar power. Coal in particular comprises a lion’s share of Chinese consumption.

With Beijing already questioning the statistics, China is said to have consumed the equivalent of 2.265 billion tons of oil in 2009, ahead of the U.S. total of 2.169 billion tons.

Energy consumption has long been a sore point between China and the U.S.; the Bush administration refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change for a host of reasons, not the least of which was the protocol’s failure to require a drop in emissions from countries Washington said were major energy consumers, including China.

And while China has doubled its energy consumption in less than a decade, by one metric, America is still the one. With roughly a billion less citizens, the U.S. still consumes fives times more per capita than China, the Paris-based agency said.