China burnt less coal last year than expected, as the projected rise in its energy demand faltered along with the rise in its economic growth, and as the expansion of its renewable energy generation continued.

Emissions of carbon dioxide related to energy use were flat in 2014, compared with the previous year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday. Previous pauses or falls in the upward march of global emissions, such as that experienced in 2009, were closely related to economic shocks.

Global carbon dioxide output was 32.3bn tonnes in 2014, which the IEA said was unchanged from the previous year, while global GDP rose by 3%. However, the data is still preliminary and will not be confirmed until mid-June. It is not possible at present to say how much of the pause in the growth of emissions was down to policy and how much to economic forces, nor whether this pause is likely to continue.

The dramatic fall in the price of oil over the last few months will also be an important factor in whether emissions rise again next year, as cheaper oil is associated with increasing greenhouse gas levels.

Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the IEA, warned that the apparent one-year pause in the growth of emissions was too soon to regard policies as successful. She said: “The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency, and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2007 that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by around 2020 for the world to stay on track to hold global temperature rises to no more than 2C on average, the level regarded as the limit of safety beyond which the effects of climate change are likely to become irreversible and catastrophic.

Global governments will meet in Paris this December to discuss a possible new agreement on climate change to include commitments on curbing emissions after 2020, when current commitments end.

Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate secretary, said: “These figures show that green growth is achievable not just for Britain but for the world. However we cannot be complacent – we need to dramatically cut emissions, not just stop their growth. Getting a new global climate deal is absolutely vital, and the year ahead is going to be of critical importance.”

Ahead of the Paris conference, governments of major economies, both developed and developing, are expected to come up with proposals to cut or curb their emissions in the 2020s. The United Nations (UN) has set a deadline of the end of March for submitting such proposals, but this may not be met in all cases.

Last November, the world’s two biggest emitters – the US and China – jointly announced their commitments under the UN process. The US has pledged a cut of 25% to 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. China has pledged that its emissions will peak by 2030, a goal that the European Union’s former climate chief told the Guardian was “very late” compared with what China is capable of.

Future data from the IEA, scheduled to be published in June, is likely to give an indication of whether China’s emissions could be expected to peak sooner than the 2030 deadline, on business-as-usual expectations.

Developed countries in the past decade have experienced a “decoupling” of carbon emissions from economic growth, with rising GDP alongside lower emissions. However, some observers have said this was only possible because the manufacturing and contingent energy use needed to fuel economic growth were taken on by developing countries such as China.

The pledges made by countries under the UN climate change negotiating process, including a commitment by the EU to cut emissions relative to 1990 levels by 40% by 2030, will be examined by the UN in the months leading up to the Paris talks.

Fiona Harvey, the Guardian 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

Edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

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