The year 2010 was a banner year for climate records but a desperate one for climate talks.
It was one of the three warmest years recorded since 1850. It also marked the end of the warmest 10-year period since the beginning of instrumental records.
Canada was among the prizewinners.
"The most extreme warm anomalies ... extended across most of Canada and Greenland with mean annual temperatures 3 degrees Celsius or more above normal in parts of west Greenland and the eastern Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic," according to the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization. "Temperatures averaged over Canada have been the highest on record."
Throughout the year the drumbeat of science continued its warnings and the proof was on the ground for all to see.
Record high temperatures in Russia (7.6 Celsius above normal) caused raging forest fires that by August seemed to engulf half the country, destroying 40 per cent of the grain crop, burning whole villages and even threatening Moscow.
Record floods swamped Pakistan. Murderous mudslides swallowed villages in China, killing 1,400 people in Gansu Province.
Scientists confirmed the accelerated melting of the world's mountain glaciers as well as the great Arctic ice fields and ice sheets. Satellites and ocean monitoring showed sea levels are slowly rising because of glacial melting and the expanding thermal effect of warmer waters.
By the time negotiators arrived in Cancun on Nov. 29 to begin another round of climate talks, the deteriorating state of mankind's' backyard was no longer a distant risk debated by scientists. It was here and now and on every diplomat's lips.
Scientists may shy from blaming a specific weather event on global warming. But throughout the Cancun negotiations these events spoke volumes. Extreme weather and strange seasonal anomalies had traced a worrisome and now familiar pattern over the face of the last decade.
At the Cancun climate change conference, Chris Huhne, secretary of state for energy and climate change in Britain, was blunt: "The pattern of these events and frequency of these events is due to climate change."
He claimed the U.K. alone paid out 4.5 billion pounds (nearly $7 billion) for flooding damage this year compared with only 1.5 billion pounds ($2.3 billion) in the previous 10 years.
"There is a relatively modest cost of dealing with this (climate change) problem and a massive catastrophic cost of doing nothing," he warned.
Negotiators wrestled with the realization that all the pledges so far to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would not come anywhere near to meeting the goal of keeping the mean global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. If we allow temperatures to rise above this threshold, scientists believe there is at least a 50-per-cent chance of runaway climate change.
A report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says that humanity's inaction means it is falling well behind in meeting that goal.
As it stands, there is a 40-per-cent gap between emission reduction pledges in the Copenhagen Accord and the 2-Celsius target. That means we have to cut another 6 billion tonnes of carbon each year by 2020. It's a tall order. It is more than the total emissions of the world's cars, buses and trucks in 2005. But, says the UNEP, "tackling climate change is still manageable if leadership is shown."
The total political failure of Copenhagen made 2010 the watershed year and the Cancun climate conference pivotal. The entire multilateral approach to fighting climate change was on trial. Cancun had to put the talks back on track towards a definitive and ambitious agreement that would substantially reduce the risk of runaway climate change.
Right from the beginning Cancun showed its muscle. Environment ministers and government leaders from around the world related the strange weather patterns that bedevilled their countries threatening their agriculture, their ecosystems and, in many cases, their way of life. In Copenhagen, they had spoken in terms of principles and future challenges. In Cancun, the future had become the present. The danger is now.
Leading up to Cancun, the Mexican government emphasized a step-by-step approach toward a global agreement. Expect no agreement to be signed in Cancun, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa cautioned. Success would come in the form of small victories that eventually -perhaps in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 -could be fashioned into a legally binding global commitment.
Espinosa's skilful handling of this disparate group of 193 countries assured that Cancun became a triumph if only compared with Copenhagen's failure. She won a resounding consensus on two negotiating texts that if nothing else offers hope.
The texts may still be long on principles and short on substance. But the Cancun decisions mean we are back in the game. They showed, at least for the moment, that the globe is finally showing signs of the determination and leadership required to tackle climate change. If the spirit of Cancun continues, next year's conference in Durban will produce a binding international agreement.
The key question is will it be strong enough to make a difference? Climate change waits for no one. Scientists have warned for years that ambitious actions must be taken now to reduce the risk of runaway climate change. As the weather patterns of the last decade demonstrate, their warnings appear frighteningly accurate.