10 december 2010

2010 hottest climate year on record, NASA says

By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, 12/10/2010

Even as negotiators in Cancun struggled Friday to reach a modest climate accord at the U.N.-sponsored talks here, new temperature readings released by NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies show 2010 now ranks as the hottest climate year on record.

Many scientists use the climate year, which runs from December of the preceding year to November of the current year, to evaluate long-term climate trends. The combined land-ocean temperature readings NASA's Goddard Institute posted Friday indicate that 2010 has surpassed what it identified as the previous warmest climate year, 2005.

The findings are significant, according to experts, and barring some temperature anomaly in December, should place 2010 as the warmest year on record overall. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has identified 1998 as the warmest year on record with 2005 close behind, will release its climate year readings next week.

Rafe Pomerance, a senior fellow at Clean Air-Cool Planet, wrote in an e-mail, "The continuing rapid warming of the planet should send everyone in Cancun home with a renewed sense of urgency whatever the final outcome of the negotiations. Not only is the temperature record indicative of rapid warming but many other indicators such as rising sea levels, the loss of Arctic sea ice and glacial retreat are pointing in the same direction".

Here at the talks, European negotiators expressed frustration that countries have not agreed to make sufficient emission cuts over the next few decades that would prevent global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels by 2100. According to several analyses, the current pledges nations have made under the U.N. process would make up between half and three-quarters of what's needed to meet that global temperature target.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, said she is not surprised at the disconnect between the science and policymakers' level of ambition, but it remains a problem.

"Of course, all of this is incredibly difficult. It is, in the end, about how we build the society of the future. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift," Hedegaard said, adding that negotiators often focus on "narrow issues" rather than the broader goal of keeping global warming in check.

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