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Climate change: Scientists say this decade likely hottest on record

At Copenhagen climate change talks, a research group says this decade is likely to prove the hottest on record.

By Peter N. SpottsStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 8, 2009

A mass of ice broken off from the Upsala glacier (back) floats on the waters of Lago Argentino, southwest of Argentina in this March 27, 2007 file photo.

Enrique Marcarian/Reuters/File

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COPENHAGEN, DENMARK -- The first decade of the 21st century is shaping up to be the warmest decade on record globally, while 2009 is likely to crack the Top 10 list of warmest years, perhaps rising as high as No. 5.

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That's based on a preliminary look at global climate trends released today by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at global climate change talks here in the Danish capital. The WMO's data stretches back to 1850.

The numbers are subject to revision, cautions Michel Jarraud, the WMO's secretary-general. A final analysis of the year and decade is due out next March. Still, he says, the figures released today "are pretty solid."

The preliminary report comes as delegates from more than 190 countries are here negotiating their way toward a global climate change agreement -- an effort that would include developed and developing countries.

The goal is to take actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in a way that puts the world on a path to hold warming to roughly 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F.) above pre-industrial levels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concurs that this decade was probably the hottest since 1850, noting that average global surface temperatures are expected to reach 0.96 degree F. above the 20th-century average. This will easily surpass the 1990s value of 0.65 degree F.

During the past year, climate-change skeptics have looked at individual annual average temperatures since 1998 and concluded that global warming has given way to global cooling. But climate specialists tend to look at long-term figures in ways that tease the trend out of the ups and downs of individual annual numbers.

As for this year, 2009 was unusually cool in North America and Canada, according to the WMO's analysis, which is based on readings taken from January through October. But the cooling in North America was more than offset by warmer-than-normal temperatures in other parts of the world. Australia posted its third-hottest year on record. Austral fall temperatures in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil hit record highs. China posted its third-warmest year in nearly 60 years. And even with its cool temperatures, the US is still likely to mark 2009 as slightly warmer than normal.

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