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UN: Last decade was warmest on record, but weather-related fatalities fell

The World Meteorological Organization's review of severe weather and climate 2001 to 2010 shows that nine years in that decade were among the 10 warmest on record. Even normally cool La Niña years warmed up.

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This Aug. 14, 2010, photo shows an aerial view of the flooded Rohjan area in southern Pakistan. United Nations climate experts say global warming has accelerated since the 1970s, breaking more countries’ temperature records than ever before.

Khalid Tanveer/AP/File

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The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest decade on record and yielded some of the most extreme weather events – drought, floods, heat waves, intense rain and snowfall – on record in various regions of the world, according to an overview of the last decade produced by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

While natural swings in climate played a key role, those have been superimposed over a general warming trend in Earth's climate. The trigger for this longer-term warming has come from rising carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuel and from land-use changes.

The report "shows that global warming was significant from 1971 to 2010 and that the decadal rate of increase between 1991-2000 and 2001-2010 was unprecedented," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, in a prepared statement. "Rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are changing our climate, with far reaching implications for our environment and our oceans, which are absorbing both carbon dioxide and heat.”

For all of its extremes, however, the decade 2001-10 was also noteworthy for the decline in the number of people killed by extreme weather – despite the high tolls from hurricane Katrina, the 2003 heat wave in Europe and in Russia in 2010, and the floods that inundated Pakistan.

The number of people who succumbed to heat waves during the decade rose by 2,000 percent over the prior decade. But the number of fatalities from storms dropped 16 percent and the number killed from floods fell by 43 percent over the prior decade. Overall, the number of casualties from weather and climate extremes dropped by 20 percent between the 1991-2000 period and 2001-10.

The WMO, which released its decade in review Wednesday, attributes the decline "in good part" to improved early-warning systems and higher states of preparedness.

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