Durban — Global temperatures in 2011 are currently the tenth highest on record since 1850 when records were first kept, a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed today.
The report also showed that 13 of the warmest years have occurred in the past 15 years since 1997, leading to a significant drop in Arctic sea ice and its lowest levels this year.
Speaking to reporters at the climate change conference, COP17, WMO deputy secretary general Jerry Lengoasa said the statistics were an indication that climate change "is real and is upon us".
It comes as leaders gather at the Durban International Convention Centre for the next two weeks to find solutions to the already threatening impacts of climate change and global warming.
"Our role is to provide the scientific knowledge to inform action by decision makers. Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," Lengoasa said.
The WMO report also paints a bleak picture of how concentrations of toxic gases in the atmosphere have reached new heights in recent years.
"They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 - 2.4 degree centigrade rise in average temperatures, which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our earth, biosphere and oceans."
It also notes that severe droughts have hit parts of east Africa in late 2010 and these continued through 2011. The most severely affected areas included Kenya, Western Somalia and some southern borders of Ethiopia.
Linda Makuleni, chief executive at SA Weather Service, said South Africa was not spared of the devastating impact of the changing climate, warning that the country could see more severe weather patterns in the coming years.
"There is definitely an indication that our temperatures are changing drastically, looking at the rainfall patterns we are witnessing, the severe droughts in the Eastern Cape and our research shows that these will continue," Makuleni said.
The WMO and several non-governmental organisations have called on the negotiators gathering in Durban to make use of scientific information as they deliberate on an appropriate solution to the climate crisis.
The talks, however, could be derailed by reports that Canada could pull out of the Kyoto Protocol and will not sign for a new commitment period.
The G77 countries are pushing for developed countries to sign up for a new agreement on the Protocol but the unwillingness by the powerful nations such as the US and Japan and now Canada's position could dampen the spirit at the negotiations.
Delegates at the conference will also be hammering out the details of a plan to administer the Green Climate Fund, money that is to help countries deal with climate change.
Several media reported that Canada will announce next month its decision on the Kyoto Protocol.