World Temperatures May Post Hottest Year on Record in 2010, UN Agency Says

Global average temperatures may be the warmest on record this year, the World Meteorological Organization said, days after announcing that greenhouse-gas concentrations are the highest since measurements began.

The worldwide average temperature in 2010 through part of November was 0.55 degree Celsius hotter than the long-term average of 14 degrees (57 degrees Fahrenheit), the WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud said.

“The long-term trend is a trend of very significant warming,” Jarraud said today in Cancun, Mexico, where envoys from 194 nations are working on a treaty curb climate change. “We are very concerned. You cannot dispute the warming.”

The findings put pressure at UN delegates to agree on a pact on limiting emissions from burning fossil fuels, which is blamed for damaging the atmosphere. Those discussions dissolved last year without a legally binding treaty to replace the limits under the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.

“We need to do more to prevent dangerous climate change from happening,” Peter Wittoeck, a Belgian envoy who leads the European Union delegation, said at a press conference today. “The European Union alone taking action would not solve the problem.”

Emissions Limits

Reducing output of heat-trapping gases is the key goal of the UN talks in Cancun. The concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, the main man-made greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, rose to a record last year, the WMO said on Nov. 24.

“Melting glaciers are going to impact all of us,” said Patricia Cochran, executive director of the Alaska Native Science Commission. “Our people are not rich people.”

The U.S., EU, China and other nations that signed an informal accord in Copenhagen last year agreed to try to keep temperature gains to 2 degrees Celsius. Christiana Figueres, the UN diplomat, leading the talks this year, said the current emissions pledges aren’t enough to meet that goal. Today’s figures give scientific backing to her concerns.

“If greenhouse gases continue to increase, then global average temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial temperatures, by the end of the century or even as early as 2060,” Vicky Pope, head of climate science at Britain’s Met Office, said in an e-mailed interview.

The atmospheric gases, stemming mainly from burning fossil fuels, changes in land use and deforestation, continued a rising trend that began with industrialization in the 18th century.

Cooler in 2011

Next year is likely to be cooler because of a “very strong” La Nina effect, the Met Office said today in an e- mailed statement. That refers to a periodic pattern of cooler surface waters in the Pacific Ocean. The latest began in the second half of 2010. The British agency said 2011 is likely to be about 0.44 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1961 through 1990 average, placing it among the 10 warmest years on record.

That compares with the 0.52-degree temperature “anomaly” registered in 1998, the hottest year in the series compiled by the Met Office since 1850. The Met Office provides one of the three datasets used by the UN to guide climate talks.

The two other data sets are compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The NOAA and NASA series both registered anomalies through October that, if continued through November and December, would also show records for this year. Both hit record years in 2005. The three series each are calculated in a slightly different way.

Reading the Trend

While a single year of data “doesn’t give a scientific basis to arrive at any kind of inference,” there’s a stronger trend to be drawn from a longer series of readings, Rajendra Pachauri, the UN’s chief climate scientist, said in an interview in Cancun. Before this year, 11 of the previous 12 years featured in the 12 hottest years in recorded history, he said.

“It’s important for negotiators to follow the science and use the negotiations on climate change to respond to the science,” Pachauri said.

The average temperature rose at about 0.16 degree per decade in the 1980s and 1990s. The rate through the 2000s has been from 0.05 to 0.13 degree, according to Pope.

“There is a strong signal of warming when we look at the decade-on-decade changes in temperature,” Pope said.

Nine climate indicators -- including temperatures in the lower atmosphere, humidity, rising sea levels, declining sea ice and shrinking glaciers, all point toward a warming climate, according to a report last week from the Met Office.

‘‘Industrialized countries cannot cheat the atmosphere,’’ said Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace's political coordinator. ‘‘Science must drive this negotiating process, which means bringing the oil and coal industries under control.’’

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in Cancun at amorales2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net.

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