"Global temperature in 2004 is the fourth warmest since 1861," said Amir Delju, the Geneva-based WMO's acting chief of climate-data management. "Global warming is still continuing. So we will have [more] droughts, floods, hurricanes and typhoons because of the global warming. Since the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago the trend in atmosphere has totally changed. This causes [rapid climate] changes."
Delju stressed that global warming has a huge impact on people's health, food security, farming, and fishing. And relief aid and high expenses for healthcare caused by natural disasters are putting financial pressure on governments.
For the private sector, the WMO estimates that natural disasters will cost insurers a record $35 billion this year, after hurricanes lashed the Caribbean and southeastern United States and a record 10 typhoons soaked Japan.
Overall destruction costs in 2004 will surge to $95 billion worldwide compared to an average of $70 billion per year during the past decade.
Delju urged governments to take immediate action on global warming.
"The over-consumption of fossil fuels gives rise to greenhouse gas [which] causes [an] increase of temperature," Delju said. "We should reduce the consumption of fossil fuels [and] the emissions of greenhouse gas. And if we stop today these wrong actions, [the] earth [will] needs at least 50-100 years to recover. So we should stop right today."
Delju said a positive step will come in February, when the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change goes into force following Russia's recent ratification.
Kyoto's objective is to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by industrialized nations by 5 percent as measured against their levels in 1990. The treaty ends in 2012.
The WMO's report was released as environmental ministers from 80 countries have been debating climate change the past week in Buenos Aires. One of the conference's main goals is to approve an aid package for developing countries to adapt to climate change.
But Edouard Toulouse, who works for the international environmentalist group WWF in Paris, said it has turned into a polarized affair.
"On one side we have the European Union which is [a] leader in the fight against [the] pollution problem," Toulouse said. "It wants to go forward by putting measures in place. But on the other side, the United States continues to refuse to get involved and is trying to use developing countries to prevent the European Union from doing anything."
The United States is responsible for roughly 25 percent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. Under President George W. Bush, Washington withdrew from Kyoto, arguing the agreement would hurt economic growth.
Kyoto also does not apply to developing countries such as China and India that are also among the world's top polluters.
Toulouse said environmental activists are exasperated by the lack of urgency at the conference in Argentina.
"The protocol sets objectives [for 2012] and we have to achieve them," Toulouse said. "So everything still has to be done. Now we have to manage to do without oil and coal by developing renewable energy sources and by controlling energy consumption more efficiently. Besides that, it is important to discuss what to do after 2012."
Italy's environment minister, Alteri Matteoli, yesterday called for an end to the Kyoto Protocol after the treaty runs out. Matteoli said continuing Kyoto in its current form would be useless without the agreement of the world's biggest polluters.