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30 November 2011

COP-17: ‘Solid science’ proves warming Earth

Environmental activists demonstrate outside the COP-17 venue in Durban on Tuesday. Picture: Reuters

Extreme weather to be amplified by warming climate, warns World Meteorological Organisation as prospects dim for meaningful climate deal in Durban.

DURBAN — The world is getting hotter, with this year one of the warmest on record, and humans are to blame, a report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Tuesday.

It warned that rising global average temperatures were expected to amplify floods, droughts and other extreme weather patterns.

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," Jerry Lengoasa, deputy secretary-general of the WMO, told reporters in Durban, where almost 200 nations are gathered for COP-17, the United Nations climate change summit.

The WMO, part of the UN, said the warmest 13 years of average global temperatures have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997. That has contributed to extreme weather conditions that increase the intensity of droughts and heavy precipitation across the world.

"Global temperatures in 2011 are currently the 10th highest on record and are higher than any previous year with a La Niña event, which has a relative cooling influence," it said.

This year, the global climate was influenced heavily by the strong La Niña, a natural phenomenon usually linked to extreme weather in Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa, which developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011.

One of the strongest such events in 60 years, it was closely associated with the drought in east Africa, on islands in the central equatorial Pacific and in the US, as well as severe flooding in other parts of the world.

The WMO report was released to coincide with COP-17, which run until December 9 in Durban aimed at trying to reach agreement on cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Prospects for a meaningful agreement appear bleak with each of the biggest emitters, the US and China, unwilling to take on binding cuts until the other does first. Main players Japan, Canada and Russia are unwilling to extend commitments that expire next year, and the European Union is looking at 2015 as a deadline for reaching a new global deal.

The WMO report said the extent of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest.

It said the build-up of greenhouse gases put the world at a tipping point of irreversible changes in ecosystems.

"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs," Michel Jarraud, WMO secretary-general, said in a separate statement.

"They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2° C to 2,4° C rise in average global temperatures, which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans."

Russia experienced the largest variation from average, with its northern parts seeing January to October temperatures about 4° C higher in several places, it said.

UN scientists said in a separate report this month an increase in heat waves was almost certain, while heavier rainfall, more floods, stronger cyclones, landslides and more intense droughts were likely across the globe this century as the Earth’s climate warmed.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said global average temperatures could rise by 3° C to 6° C by the end of the century if governments failed to contain emissions, bringing unprecedented destruction as glaciers melt, sea levels rise and small island states are submerged.