WWF: 2005 Hottest, Driest, Stormiest Year on Record

This year is likely to go down as the hottest, stormiest and driest ever, making a strong case for the urgent need to combat global warming, a report released Tuesday at the U.N. Climate Change Conference said.

The year 2005, the World Wildlife Fund said, is shaping up as the worst for extreme weather, with the hottest temperatures, most Arctic melting, worst Atlantic hurricane season and warmest Caribbean waters.

It's also been the driest year in decades in the Amazon, where a drought may surpass anything in the past century, said the report by international environmental group.

The report, using data from the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, was released on the sidelines of the U.N. conference reviewing and upgrading the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that commits 35 industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions more than 5 percent by 2012. The United States has not signed on to the protocol.

Kyoto blames carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases for rising global temperatures and disrupted weather patterns. Many scientists believe if temperatures keep rising, extreme weather will continue to kill humans, disrupt lifestyles and make some animal species extinct.

Lara Hansen, chief scientist for WWF's Climate Change Program, said cyclical patterns alone cannot explain the number of hurricanes this year.

"What we're seeing now is even beyond what that cyclical nature would lead us to believe has happened," Hansen told the AP by telephone from Washington. She noted the National Hurricane Center failed to predict how many hurricanes there would be in 2005.

Last year, the center predicted 18 to 21 storms, but so many were recorded that the official naming of them exceeded the Roman alphabet and had to be supplemented with letters of the Greek alphabet.

Waters in the Caribbean were also hotter for longer, causing extensive bleaching from Colombia to the Florida Keys, she said.

In the north, the smallest area of Arctic sea ice ever was recorded in September — 500,000 square miles smaller than the historic average — and a 9.8 percent decline, per decade, of perennial sea ice cover, the report said.

Canada's Inuit issued their own report last week, saying eroding shorelines, thinning ice and losses of hunting and polar bears have affected their lives.

Hansen said some predictions indicate the Arctic North could become ice-free by the end of the century, even possibly by mid-century.

"The rate at which we are losing sea ice goes beyond the normal models of what we would think would be happening," she said.

The United States, which produces one-fourth of the world's pollution, has refused to join the Kyoto Protocol, resisting any binding commitments to cap industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, saying it would harm the U.S economy.

President Bush instead has called for an 18 percent cut in the U.S. growth of greenhouse gases by 2012 and commits about $5 billion a year to global warming science and technology.