It may not feel like it this week, but, according to NASA, 2010 will be the hottest year on record so far. The agency says the record-breaking heat was caused by a combination of man-made factors -- greenhouse gas emissions -- and a natural pattern of warming caused by El Niño in the Pacific Ocean.
The scorching heat was accompanied by other extreme weather patterns scientists say are affected by the Earth's heating atmosphere -- devastating flooding in Pakistan, an abnormal July heat wave in Russia, warmer oceans that brought outbreaks of coral-reef bleaching.
NASA's announcement came while representatives from 193 nations held an annual climate-change conference in Cancún, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 11. Unlike last year's unproductive climate conference in Copenhagen, the Cancún summit actually accomplished several things.
The biggest goal -- a legally binding global treaty on greenhouse gas emissions reduction -- remains elusive. But in Cancún, groundwork was laid for the 2011 conference in South Africa.
Three areas of contention were settled in Cancún. First, the United States and China agreed on international, transparent standards for countries to verify their reductions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions. This was a major problem in Copenhagen because the United States and China are the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. In fact, China has surpassed U.S. emissions.
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