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Environment

2010 ranks among top three hottest years on record

Europe may be in the grips of an unseasonable cold snap, but 2010 has been one of the warmest years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

People sunbathe lakeside near Berlin

It's been a sweltering decade

A report released at the United Nations climate change conference in Mexico shows 2010 is on track to be one of the three hottest years since modern records began in 1850.

It caps off a record-warm decade that is a new indication of the man-made climate change that delegates at the Cancun Climate Change Conference hope to curb, according to the UN weather and climate body behind the report, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

"The trend is of very significant warming," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told a news conference on the Cancun conference sidelines.

He said 2010 so far was slightly warmer than both 1998 and 2005, the previous two hottest years, but could slip once November and December records are included. Global temperature records show this year has been half a degree warmer than a 1961-1990 annual average of 14 degrees Celsius.

"There is a significant possibility that 2010 could be the warmest year," Jarraud said. A final ranking for 2010 is due to be published early in 2011.

Workers clear the walkway of fresh-fallen snow in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

Early snowfall this year has wreaked havoc across Germany and Europe

Winter comes early in Europe

The report coincided with a cold snap across northern Europe, where snowfall has caused travel chaos. In Germany, Berlin woke up on Friday to nine centimeters of snow and temperatures of -6 degrees Celsius, with even deeper snow in other parts of the country.

"Generally Germany does fit the (WMO-reported) trend if we look at the past 100 years or so, but this year it did not. So far Germany has experienced its coolest year since 1996," Gerhard Mueller-Westermeier, an expert from the German Meteorological Service, told Deutsche Welle.

On average, Mueller-Westermeier said, 2010 has so far been a cold year across central Europe, though he pointed out that the region represents only a small proportion of global land and sea surface temperatures and records here do not invalidate the WMO report.

Sign of things to come

Negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico

Negotiators at the UN Climate conference in Cancun are hoping for success

WMO head Michel Jarraud said the changes reflected in his organization's report were new evidence that human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels were warming the climate, and that he hoped the findings would guide negotiators at the Cancun conference.

"If nothing is done...(temperatures) will go up and up," he said.

"This is yet another warning from the planet that it is feeling the heat," said Greenpeace International Climate Policy Director Wendel Trio.

"Will Governments take this warning and take the opportunity to act? Or will they continue to delay action and accept more warming, year after year?"

The Cancun conference continues until December 10.

Author: Sophie Tarr (Reuters)
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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