Energy sector carbon emissions
Data released by the International Energy Agency has found that carbon emissions form the energy sector stalled in 2014. Getty Images

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years when a halt or reduction in emissions was not tied to an economic downturn.

Data analyzed by the International Energy Agency showed carbon dioxide emissions stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year.

The IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth largely to changing patterns of energy generation and consumption in China and OECD countries.

The IEA warned that while the results were encouraging, this was no time for complacency.

A recent study had shown that the planet is seeing a period of climate change that was faster than in the last 1,000 years and if trends continue, by 2020 the rate of climate change would be the fastest seen in 2,000 years.

"This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one," said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, while responding to the agency report.

Generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal in China combined with sustainable growth efforts in OECD economies that decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, were cited as two main reasons for the halt in emissions.

Energy accounts for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In the 40 years when the IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there have only been three occasions on which emissions have stood still or fallen, and all were associated with global economic weakness.

These were in the early 1980s after the U.S. recession, in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in 2009 after the global financial crisis.

However in 2014, the global economy expanded by 3 percent.

More details on the data and analysis will be released on June 15 in London. The report will suggest policy measures to advance climate goals without blunting economic growth, and assess adaptation needs, including in the power sectors of China and India.

5 steps

The IEA had recently laid out five steps to take the world to a low-carbon energy sector. These include immediate action to be taken by 2020, electricity decarbonization, redirecting investments into clean energy, mobilizing non-climate goals for energy decarbonization and strengthening energy security.

Countries are aiming to reach agreement in Paris later this year on a deal to limit emissions that will come into force from 2020.

Unless the global surface temperature rise is restricted to no more than 2C (3.6F) compared with pre-industrial levels, the IPCC has warned that the world will see irreversible catastrophic climate change.