The U.S. is about to register the warmest year on record in the lower 48 states, and the world its ninth-hottest, a United Nations agency said in a report, adding new urgency to the quest to control global warming.
Two-thirds of the U.S. states suffered drought this year, while heat waves hit across Europe and in Morocco, Jordan, China and Russia, the World Meteorological Organization said in a report released in Doha, where UN climate talks began this week. It noted Arctic sea ice shrank to its smallest on record.
“The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement. “Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records.”
Envoys from 194 nations are working on setting the framework for negotiations on a treaty that would be agreed to in 2015 and come into force in 2020. It would limit fossil fuel emissions, which the WMO earlier this month said reached their highest ever.
As delegates met for their third day of discussions scheduled to conclude on Dec. 7, environmental groups joined China, Brazil and 48 of the least developing countries in the world saying industrial nations must make good on their promises for $100 billion a year in aid for developing nations.
“The real risk is that finance in the next two weeks could crash this COP,” said Tim Gore, an analyst at Oxfam who is observing the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN’s 1992 treaty on climate change.
The UN, International Energy Agency and World Bank have said in recent reports that current emissions reduction pledges won’t contain the rise in global temperatures to the UN target of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The global average temperature has risen about 0.8 degrees since pre-industrial times, according to UN estimates. The average for the 10 months through October has been the ninth warmest of any similar period since records began in 1850, according to today’s study, which put it at 0.45 degrees warmer than the 1961-1990 average of 14.2 degrees.
The WMO didn’t provide a comparison with pre-industrial times. It said temperatures in 2012 have been moderated by La Nina, a periodic phenomenon bringing cooler waters to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Its counterpart is known as El Nino, an upwelling of warmer waters in that ocean.
“Naturally occurring climate variability due to phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina impact on temperatures and precipitation on a seasonal to annual scale,” said Jarraud. “But they do not alter the underlying long-term trend of rising temperatures due to climate change as a result of human activities.”
A separate report today by Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found sea levels are rising at 3.2 millimeters a year, faster than the 2 millimeters forecast by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
“The new findings highlight that the IPCC is far from being alarmist and in fact in some cases rather underestimates possible risks,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, a researcher at the intitute.
Developing country delegates at the UN talks have called for industrialized nations to step up aid efforts that help them adapt to climate change. The U.S. led industrial nations in 2009 in pledging to boost aid to $100 billion a year by 2020, starting with $30 billion during the three-year period ending this year.
“We have economies that are agriculture driven, and we must rely on rain-fed agriculture,” Evans Njewa, a Malawian envoy who negotiates for the bloc of 48 Least Developed Countries, told reporters in Doha yesterday. “Our adaptive capacities are very low because of that.”
The LDCs, alongside Brazil and China, are calling for richer nations to produce a road map to show how they will scale up aid from the $10 billion-a-year of so-called fast-start financing, which ends this year. They say the industrial nations have no common methodology for reporting aid payments and that there’s no assurance the funds promised represent new money.
The European Union, which is among the biggest aid donors, signalled it may be able to accommodate the request for a finance roadmap.
“When it comes to the roadmap that has been mentioned by other countries, normally it means we’re going to continue to discuss this matter until 2020,” Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union’s climate envoy, said at a briefing today. “We don’t think this matter is closed. There’s many kind of open questions. We are certainly interested in a continuation of this discussion.”
The WMO said the winter of 2011 and 2012 was the third warmest in the contiguous U.S. since records began in 1895. It was followed by the warmest spring ever and the joint-warmest summer, alongside 2011, the agency said. Its figures matched data for the first eight months of the year from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, on Sept. 10.
“Overall, the contiguous United States is expected to have its warmest year on record,” the WMO said. In March alone, “the extraordinary warm spell resulted in nearly 15,000 new daily records for high maximum and minimum temperatures across the contiguous United States.”
Other extreme weather events highlighted by today’s report include Hurricane Sandy, which wrought havoc across the Caribbean before hitting the U.S. east coast, flooding the New York subway system and claiming 100 lives.
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