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China Sinopec's Tianjin terminal receive liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo from Australia. Photo: VCG/Getty Images

Surging Chinese natural gas consumption, combined with its limited domestic production, will make the country the world's largest gas importer starting in 2019 or even this year, the International Energy Agency said in a new report.

Why it matters: That projection, and other new IEA forecasts of China's remarkable gas demand growth, underscores the country's huge and growing presence in global energy markets.

"This is the same movie we have seen for coal, for oil, and it’s same thing we are seeing again now."
— IEA executive director Fatih Birol tells Axios' Amy Harder
  • The country is already the world's biggest coal consumer and producer, as well as the largest crude oil importer.
  • Now China is poised to overtake Japan as the largest buyer of foreign gas, with the bulk of the import growth coming from liquefied natural gas (LNG).

By the numbers: IEA's new market outlook forecasts Chinese gas demand growing 60% between last year and 2023, accounting for 37% of all worldwide demand growth during the period.

Driving the trend: IEA says an important reason for China's rising thirst is the federal government's edict to improve the country's terrible air quality, in part by replacing coal with gas for industrial and residential use.

  • "An increasing role for natural gas — defined as a clean energy source — in every sector of China’s economy is backed by strong policy support from the 13th Five-Year Plan," the report states.
  • However, coal remains the country's largest energy source by far.

The intrigue: China's need for gas imports is likely one reason why, despite the U.S-China trade fight, American LNG isn't among the many goods hit with new tariffs.

  • More broadly, Birol does not currently see escalating global trade tensions between the U.S. and other nations spilling into LNG markets.
  • “Buyers are all ready to buy, and the sellers are ready to sell, and everybody seems to be happy now," he said.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
51 mins ago - Technology

Google's parent shuts down effort to deliver internet via balloons

Image: Loon

Alphabet is shutting down Loon, one of its "moonshots," which aimed to deliver internet service via high-altitude balloons.

Why it matters: The effort was one of several approaches designed to get high-speed connectivity to some of the world's most remote spots and proved useful in the aftermath of disasters that shut down traditional infrastructure.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

What has and hasn't changed as Biden takes over U.S. foreign policy

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden swiftly recommitted the U.S. to the Paris climate pact and the World Health Organization, but America's broader foreign policy is in a state of flux between the Trump and Biden eras.

Driving the news: One of the most striking moves from the Biden administration thus far was a show of continuity — concurring with the Trump administration's last-minute determination that China had committed "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: New coronavirus cases down, but more bad news ahead — Fighting COVID-19's effects on gender equality.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: NYC postpones vaccine appointments following shipment delays — Private companies step in to fill vaccine logistics vacuum.
  4. World: Biden will order U.S. to rejoin World Health OrganizationBiden to bring U.S. into global COVAX initiative for equitable vaccine access.

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