Coal has reached its highest market share of global energy consumption for more than 40 years, figures reveal, despite fears that its high carbon emissions make it a prime cause of climate change.

The use of coal for power generation and other purposes grew by 3% in 2013 – faster than any other fossil fuel – while its share of the market breached 30% for the first time since 1970, the BP Statistical Review reports.

The figures were published as Prof Nick Stern, author of the influential climate change report the Stern Review, said his latest research indicated the economic risks of unchecked climate change were bigger than previously estimated.

Europe is among the regions using more coal, increasing imports from the US, where coal has been displaced in power stations by even cheaper shale gas. But developing countries such as China and India are also huge coal users, although BP pointed out that energy growth overall in China dropped to 4.7% last year from 8.4% in 2012.

Christof Ruhl, BP’s chief economist and author of its statistical review, said this “dramatic slowdown” put a question mark over China’s official economic growth figure for 2013 of 7.7%.

The accuracy of Chinese economic statistics have long been a subject for debate but few are willing to directly challenge them for fear of upsetting such an important emerging powerhouse.

“It is not easy to reconcile the slowdown in energy growth numbers and official [gross domestic product] numbers … you can draw your own conclusions from that,”Ruhl said.

The BP statistics show that the use of windfarms for generating electricity rose by 21% last year while solar power grew even more rapidly, by 33%, but from a lower base point.

Oil, a major carbon polluter which has an important role in transport and in the manufacture of chemicals and plastics, remained the world’s leading fuel, with 33% of global energy consumption. But it lost market share for the 14th consecutive year and 33% is the lowest share since BP started to compile its data in 1965.

The paper from Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and president of the Royal Academy for humanities and social sciences, and Simon Dietzan, an associate professor in environmental policy at London School of Economics and Political Science, warns that living standards could start to decline later this century unless the growth in annual emissions of greenhouse gases is checked.

In a peer-reviewed paper to be published in the Economic Journal, Stern has updated previous models for assessing the economic impact of global warming which have been used by the United Nations’ key Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Stern said: “It is extremely important to understand the severe limitations of standard economic models, such as those cited in the IPCC report, which have made assumptions that simply do not reflect current knowledge about climate change and its potential impacts on the economy.

“I hope our paper will prompt other economists to strive for much better models which will help policymakers and the public to recognise the immensity the potential risks of unmanaged climate change.

“Models that assume that catastrophic damages are not possible fail to take account of the magnitude of the issues and the implications of the science.”

Terry Macalister, the Guardian 

This article first appeared on the Guardian 

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