Science

Extreme heat will soon be norm: UN agency

The brutal heat waves that killed thousands of Europeans in 2003 and choked Russia earlier this year will seem like average summers in the future as the Earth continues to warm, the UN weather agency said Tuesday.

The brutal heat waves that killed thousands of Europeans in 2003 and choked Russia earlier this year will seem like average summers in the future as the Earth continues to warm, the UN weather agency said Tuesday.

The last decade confirmed scientific predictions from 20 years ago that temperatures will rise and storms will become more fierce — and those trends are likely to continue, said Ghassam Asrar, who heads the climate research centre at the World Meteorological Organization.

Asrar was speaking at a two-week international climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, that got underway Monday.

The WMO was due on Wednesday to release details on the last decade's global temperatures, which Asrar said were the warmest on record.

Extremes

Scientists say the warming trend is caused mainly by industrial pollution accumulating in the atmosphere and trapping heat. Negotiations conducted under UN auspices have been trying to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperatures from rising to levels likely to have disastrous consequences.

While it is difficult to attribute any single weather event to climate change, extreme events are becoming more common. Judging by the current trend, the unprecedented heat waves that scorched Europe in 2003 and Russia this July will seem cool by the end of the century, Asrar said.

"There is no question the past three decades have become progressively warmer," he said. "We are on an upward trajectory."

Although climate science is still evolving and learning from current patterns, Asrar said, government planners should prepare for a warming world.

In 2003, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people died from heat-related ailments or incidents in what was the hottest summer since 1540. Russia's summer this year was the warmest this century and ignited peat fires in the forests around Moscow that suffocated the capital for weeks. Temperatures, in degrees Celsius, soared into the 30s in normally chilly Siberia.

Fast-track funding to help developing countries

Several parts of the world experienced freakish or extreme weather this year, the WMO said. Records for low temperature were shattered in hundreds of U.S. locations, and heavy snowfall disrupted air and road traffic in Europe, the U.S. and China. Pakistan suffered floods that killed 1,700 people and displaced 20 million people. China also had unusually high temperatures, floods and landslides.

Negotiators at the Cancun conference have a limited agenda. They are trying to come to an agreement on the first steps to help poor countries deal with changes in climate and develop their economies in low-carbon ways. A key issue is to create a body to govern and distribute $100 billion US in aid by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Delegates agreed at the last climate summit in Copenhagen in December 2009 to funnel $30 billion in "fast track" financing to poor countries who need immediate help over the coming three years.

Projects include coastal management against ocean surges, help for small-scale farmers whose traditional crops are ruined by changing weather patterns and to governments to help them plan for low-carbon growth.

The European Union said Tuesday it has mobilized euro 2.2 billion ($2.9 billion) this year and is on track to meet its pledge of euro 7.2 billion over three years in "fast track" financing. U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing said Monday Washington has allocated $1.7 billion for 2010.

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