This decade is very likely to be the warmest since record-keeping began in 1850, and 2009 could rank among the top-five warmest years, the U.N. weather agency reported Tuesday on the second day of a pivotal 192-nation climate conference.
In some areas - parts of Africa and Central Asia - this will probably be the warmest year, but overall 2009 "is likely to be about the fifth-warmest year on record," said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization.
The decade 2000-2009 "is very likely to be the warmest on record, warmer than the 1990s, than the 1980s and so on," Jarraud said at a news conference, holding up a chart with a temperature curve pointing upward.
If 2009 ends as the fifth-warmest year, it would replace the year 2003. According to the U.S. space agency NASA, the other warmest years since 1850 have been 2005, 1998, 2007 and 2006. NASA says the differences in readings among these years are so small as to be statistically insignificant.
The data were released as negotiators at the two-week talks in Copenhagen worked Tuesday to craft a global deal to step up efforts to stem climate change, digging into the dense technicalities of "metrics" and "gas inventories."
Governments, meanwhile, jockeyed for position leading up to the finale late next week, when more than 100 national leaders, including President Barack Obama, will converge on Copenhagen for the final days of bargaining.
Scientists say without an agreement to wean the world away from fossil fuels and other pollutants to greener sources of energy, the Earth will face the consequences of ever-rising temperatures: The extinction of plant and animals, the flooding of coastal cities, more extreme weather, more drought and the spread of diseases.
In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged fellow Europeans to raise their bid on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pressure the U.S. and others to offer more at the Copenhagen negotiations.
"We've got to make countries recognize that they have to be as ambitious as they say they want to be. It's not enough to say 'I may do this, I might do this, possibly I'll do this.' I want to create a situation in which the European Union is persuaded to go to 30 percent," Brown was quoted as saying by Britain's Guardian newspaper.
The EU has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared with 1990, and is considering raising that to 30 percent if other governments also aim high. EU leaders will have an opportunity to make such a move at a summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.
On Monday, when the climate conference opened, the Obama administration gave the talks a boost by announcing steps that could lead to new U.S. emissions controls that don't require the approval of the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said scientific evidence clearly shows that greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of the American people" and that the pollutants - mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels - should be reduced, if not by Congress then by the agency responsible for enforcing air pollution.
As Congress considers the first U.S. legislation to cap carbon emissions, the EPA finding will enable the Obama administration to act on greenhouse gases without congressional action, potentially imposing federal limits on climate-changing pollution from cars, power plants and factories.
The announcement gave Obama a new card to deal in what is expected to be tough bargaining next week at the climate conference. In preparation, Obama met with former Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel for his climate change efforts, on Monday at the White House. The EU called for a stronger bid by the Americans, who thus far have pledged emissions cuts much less ambitious than Europe's. The U.S. has offered a 17 percent reduction in emissions from their 2005 level - comparable to a 3-4 percent cut from 1990 levels.
The result in Copenhagen "will mostly be on what will be delivered by the United States and China," the world's two biggest greenhouse-gas emitters, EU environment spokesman Andreas Carlgren told reporters. He said he would be astonished if Obama did not put more on the table.
Whether the prospect of EPA action will satisfy such demands - and what China may now add to its earlier offer - remains to be seen. And success in the long-running climate talks hinges on more than emissions reductions. Most important, it requires commitments of financial support by rich countries for poor nations to help them cope with the impact of a changing climate.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)