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2005 was world's warmest year ever recorded

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2005 was world's warmest year ever recorded

Posted: 13 Jul 2006

In 2005, the average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increased 0.6 per cent over the high in 2004, representing the largest annual increase ever recorded, says the latest issue of Vital Signs an annual compendium of global change, published today by the Worldwatch Institute.

The average global temperature reached 14.6 degrees Celsius, making 2005 the warmest year ever recorded on the Earth's surface. At the same time, most economic indicators are on the rise, says Vital Signs.

In 2005, more steel and aluminium were produced than ever before, vehicle production reached a record 45.6 million units, and gross world product reached a record $59.6 trillion. The number of Internet users worldwide topped 1 billion in 2005, and cell phone sales reached an estimated 816 million.

However, while these trends point to unprecedented levels of commerce and consumption, they are set against a backdrop of ecological decline in a world powered overwhelmingly by fossil fuels, which are powering global warming.

Coral reefs

As of late last year, an estimated 20 per cent of the world's coral reefs had been destroyed, as were 20 per cent of mangrove forests. Both provide a natural buffer for coastlines against weather-related disasters, the cost of which hit a record $204 billion in 2005, with $125 billion of this caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The findings in Vital Signs 2006-2007 build on those of the United Nations-sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment released in 2005, which notes that degradation of Earth's natural systems has been brought about by human activity.

For example, deforestation accounts for 25 per cent of annual human-caused carbon emissions, and nearly 1 per cent of the global forested area was lost between 2000 and 2005 (with the greatest losses posted in Africa and Latin America, at 3.2 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively).

Fresh water

The decline of ecosystems is undermining the vital services they provide, including the provision of fresh water and food and the regulation of climate and air quality. Ecosystem decline is also increasing the risk of disruptive and potentially irreversible changes such as regional climate shifts, the emergence of new diseases, and the formation of low-oxygen "dead zones" in coastal waters.

"Business as usual is harming the Earth's ecosystems and the people who depend on them," said Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs 2006-2007 project director. "If everyone consumed at the average level of high-income countries, the planet could sustainably support only 1.8 billion people, not today's population of 6.5 billion. Yet the world's population is expected not to shrink but to grow to 8.9 billion by 2050."

Nearly 80 per cent of the world's energy comes from oil, coal, or natural gas, fossil fuels that contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that precipitate climate change. Fossil fuel burning continued to rise despite soaring energy prices over the past two years: in 2004, coal use jumped 6.3 per cent and natural gas consumption rose 3.3 per cent; in 2005, oil use increased 1.3 per cent.

These growth rates were dwarfed by those in renewable energy: global wind power capacity jumped 24 per cent in 2005, solar photovoltaic production increased 45 per cent, and biofuels production jumped 20 per cent.

"These developments are impressive and are likely to provoke far-reaching changes in world energy markets within the next five years," said Worldwatch Institute president Christopher Flavin. "But the transition will have to move even faster to prevent the kind of ecological and economic crises that may be precipitated by continuing dependence on fossil fuels."

More vital facts:

Food and Agriculture

Energy and Climate

,li> Production of fuel ethanol, the world's leading biofuel, increased 19 per cent to 36.5 billion litres in 2005.

Economic Trends

Transportation and Communications

Conflict and Peace

* The number of wars and armed conflicts worldwide declined to 39 in 2005, the lowest figure since the peak in the early 1990s. Yet at the same time, global military expenditures hit $1.02 trillion, the highest spending since the early 1990s.

Health and Society

Environment Trends

Source: Worldwatch Institute

Vital Signs 2006-2007 costs $16.95 ($24.00 in Canada) plus shipping and handling, and can be purchased through the Worldwatch website: www.worldwatch.org or by calling 1. (in the U.S.) or 1. (in all other countries).

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