msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/2/2010 12:41:45 PM ET 2010-12-02T17:41:45

This last decade was the warmest since temperature records began in 1850, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization said Thursday in a review issued on the sidelines of U.N. talks in Mexico that are seeking ways to rein in global warming.

"Recent warming has been especially strong in Africa, parts of Asia, and parts of the Arctic," it said in a statement. "The Saharan/Arabian, East African, Central Asian and Greenland/Arctic Canada sub-regions have all had 2001-10 temperatures 1.2 to 1.4 degrees C (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) above the long-term average, and 0.7 degrees C to 0.9 degrees C (about 1.5 F) warmer than any previous decade."

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While no single weather event can be traced to human activity and greenhouse gases, WMO Secretary-General Michel said natural variation cannot explain the decade-long record. "If you don't take the human emission into account you cannot reproduce what you observe," he said.

Moreover, Jarraud said there is a "significant possibility 2010 could be the warmest" year on record, surpassing 1998 and 2005.

The British Met Office — one of the three main groups that compiled the data that was then peer-reviewed — said 2010 was "more likely than not" the warmest year.

A final review in early 2011 will determine 2010's place, though there is still a chance 2010 will be just below 1998 and 2005 if December cools, the WMO stated.

The WMO said that land and sea surface temperatures so far in 2010 were 0.55 degrees C (1 F) above a 1961-1990 average of 14 degrees C (57.2 F).

"Major regional climate events" this year, it said, were:

  • Extreme Asian summer monsoon in some areas;
  • Extreme summer heatwaves in Russia and other areas;
  • An abnormal winter in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere;
  • Heavy rains and flooding in Indonesia, Australia, Africa, Europe and South America;
  • Drought in the Amazon and elsewhere;
  • El Nino in early 2010, then La Nina by yearend;
  • Hurricane activity well below normal, except in the North Atlantic;
  • Third-lowest recorded minimum for Arctic summer sea ice.

Progress at climate talks
In Cancun, prospects for a limited climate deal appeared to brighten with the U.S. and China narrowing differences on a key element: how to monitor greenhouse gas emissions.

But other issues that go to the heart of a new global warming treaty — long-term commitments for cutting emissions — proved stubbornly unmoving, and out of reach for any resolution during the annual two-week conference.

Nonetheless, analysts said an understanding on measuring emissions would be an important step that could help break the long-standing deadlock on reducing pollutants that scientists say have caused global temperatures to steadily rise over recent decades.

The Cancun meeting is the first since the Copenhagen summit last December, which defied early hopes for a broad treaty prescribing emissions reductions and instead ended with a brief statement of principles that fell short of the unanimous approval required.

Newsweek: Low-key climate conference holds promise

After a series of acrimonious meetings since then, the tone at the 193-nation Cancun conference appeared markedly improved, especially between the U.S. and China. Over the past year they had repeatedly exchanged accusations of reneging on commitments and undermining the talks.

The ultimate objective of the talks is a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 countries and the European Union to cut emissions by 5 percent by 2012. The United States rejected the accord, partly because it made no demands on rapidly developing countries like China and India.

Interactive: The northern front: A forewarning of changes worldwide (on this page)

This week Japan said it was not interested in negotiating an extension of the Kyoto targets, arguing it was pointless unless the world's largest polluters also accepted binding targets.

The fate of the Kyoto Protocol, or the shape of any agreement that succeeds it, is one of the most divisive issues in the negotiations, and no one expected it to be settled at the Mexican conclave.

However, an agreement on measurement, reporting and verification of emissions — MRV in negotiating parlance — would be a morale booster for negotiators, although the details remain to be worked out. The much disputed issue involves how nations account for their actions to limit emissions and to what extent they will allow other countries to review their books.

It also is only one of several elements that negotiators want to adopt as a package in Cancun that has something for everyone.

Timeline: The science and politics of global warming (on this page)

'Sea change' from China
China's chief negotiator, Su Wei, said the differences with the U.S. over MRV "are not that huge. In general, both countries would like to promote the process" and emerge from Cancun with a deal.

The veteran diplomat said China had put in place a rigorous system for measuring and assessing its carbon emissions and had no objection if other countries examined its reports. "We have no problem with MRV," he said.

Previously, China said only some of its actions would be open to international scrutiny.

Earlier this week, U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing said the U.S. and China had "spent a lot of energy in the past month working on those issues where we disagree and trying to resolve them. My sense is we have made progress." He did not specify those issues.

Newsweek: White House makes progress on going green

Kathrin Gutman, who follows the talks for the World Wildlife Fund, said an agreement on verification would be an important piece of a deal that could "unlock the larger discussion" on emissions reductions.

She said the two sides had refused to formally discuss the subject as recently as the last preparatory meeting a month ago, which was held in the Chinese city of Tianjin.

The shift apparently derived from compromise proposals by India and Singapore.

Barbara Finamore, the China expert for Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Chinese attitude at Cancun reflected "a sea change" in approach.

"China made a strategic decision to be as positive, open and forthcoming as they can," she said in an interview.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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