This year will go down as the fourth-hottest year on record, and the last 10 years are among the warmest since record-keeping began in 1861, the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization reported last week.

The global mean surface temperature dropped about half-a-degree Celsius from 2003, the third-warmest year on record, according to a Wednesday press release. The warmest year so far was 1998, when temperatures averaged 0.54 degrees above the 30-year mean. With the exception of 1996, the years 1995-2004 are the warmest 10 years on record.

The U.N.’s acting chief of climate-data management, Amir Deljue, 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,” Deljue said, quoted by Radio Free Europe. “We should reduce the consumption of fossil fuels [and] the emissions of greenhouse gas.”

If those actions were to stop today, Deljue said, it would take the earth at least 50 to 100 years to recover.

The report came as leaders from 80 countries met in Buenos Aires to debate climate change. The main holdout is the United States, which is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but opposes international agreements over fear they will stunt economic growth.

The WMO report documented heat waves in 2004 in Spain, Portugal, Romania, Japan and eastern Australia.

Drought conditions plagued eastern South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland in early 2004.

Long-term drought continued to affect Australia, while moderate-to-severe drought conditions plagued the western United States for the fifth year in a row. Dry conditions contributed to record wildfires in Alaska.

Global precipitation, however, was above average and 2004 was the wettest year since 2000. Wetter-than-normal conditions prevailed in the southern and eastern U.S., Eastern Europe and parts of western Asia, Bangladesh, Japan and coastal Brazil.

It was also an above-average year for hurricanes. Fifteen named tropical storms developed during the Atlantic hurricane season, and nine hit the U.S., causing damage estimated at more than $43 billion.

While the recent U.S. presidential elections featured a large turnout of evangelical Christians that polls said were motivated by moral issues, protecting the environment is not generally viewed as a high priority for many Christians.

Jim Ball, an columnist and director of the Evangelical Environmental Network, hopes that will change.

In an article on the Web site, Ball said one obstacle to getting Christians concerned about the environment is prejudice that associates environmentalism with paganism, pantheism and the 1960s counterculture.

“It’s true some evangelicals are leery,” Ball said. “We have to work though the idea that the environment is just a liberal issue.”

Ball, organizer of the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign, said one way to do that is to appeal to issues that are important to evangelicals. His latest project is drawing attention to the effect of mercury emissions, regulations of which have been eliminated under President Bush.

“The evangelical community is very concerned about the unborn, [but] is just starting to understand the impact that mercury has on the unborn child,” Ball said. “If we can help them understand that this is a dangerous neurotoxin, and most dangerous to the unborn, then I think we’ll see a real significant movement on that issue.”

“Any kind of pollution that hurts the unborn, children, families and the poor—this is contrary to loving your neighbor, which is at the center of ethical teaching,” Ball said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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