As the U.N. Talks Climate, the World Keeps Warming

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OK, fine. It’s not quite the case—as you might have concluded from my Going Green piece earlier this week—that the U.N. climate negotiations, now under way in Durban, are completely useless. On Tuesday negotiators agreed on where next year’s summit should be held, with the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar just beating out South Korea.

South Korea, you might know, has launched some of the most ambitious green energy investments in the world over the past few years. Qatar, on the other hand, has a per-capita greenhouse gas footprint of 55 tonnes, the highest in the world, and three times larger than the U.S. footprint.

Moving on, while this year’s summit—and I’m guessing future summits as well—won’t come up with a comprehensive global deal, that doesn’t mean the meetings are completely useless. Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations has a good piece exploring how the international negotiations might be turned to a better use, by focusing on matters other than a legally binding treaty, like adaptation and technology diffusion. It’s worth reading.

Meanwhile, as the delegates keep talking at Durban—or not—the world keeps warming. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced this week that the last 15 years have been the hottest on record, and included all 10 of the world’s hottest years. This year is likely to be the world’s 10th hottest year, and notably, the hottest La Nina year on record—a period when ocean temperatures and the climate as a whole are usually cooler.

Said Michel Jarraud, the secretary-general of the WMO:

Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities.

As if that weren’t enough, warming seems to be happening even faster in the far north, with temperatures in northern Russia 4 C above normal, and Arctic sea ice headed towards its second-lowest level on record. And it’s set to continue—Jarraud told delegates at Durban that the world was fast approaching a temperature rise of 2 to 2.4 C, which would be above the safe limit governments agreed to in earlier summits. But when it comes to climate change, agreements are easy—action isn’t.

Bryan Walsh is a senior writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bryanrwalsh. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME