Last year was the hottest on record in Australia, official figures showed yesterday, just days before the government hosts a key international meeting aimed at curbing global warming.
The mean temperature last year was 1.09oC above average, making it the highest since records began in 1910, the Bureau of Meteorology said in its annual climate summary.
The figures, showing a mean of 22.9oC, came after wildfires raged through homes and farms on a scorching New Year's Day and sparked accusations that the government had shirked its environmental responsibilities.
The weather bureau pointed out that scientific studies have linked global temperature increases to the greenhouse effect, in which gases such as those emitted by burning coal and oil trap heat in the atmosphere.
Australia and the US are the only two developed countries refusing to ratify the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which requires a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.
Instead, the two countries will join some of the world's biggest polluters in a search for an alternative to the accord at the inaugural meeting of the Asia-Pacific Clean Development and Climate Partnership in Sydney next Wednesday and Thursday.
Key ministers from Australia, the US, China, India, Japan and South Korea will launch a non-binding pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions first announced last July after months of secret negotiations.
Unlike the Kyoto protocol, the new initiative does not have enforcement standards nor a specific timeframe.
The pact calls for the use of new technologies to cut back on emissions, and member countries say it will complement rather than undermine the Kyoto accord.
Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell said that while the record temperatures showed "climate change is alarming," Kyoto was not the answer because it did not force developing nations to cut emissions.
But critics have described the new initiative as toothless and self-serving for a group that includes major oil and coal producers and consumers.
"2005 gave us a little taste of what life will be like if we fail to tackle climate change," the environmental group Greenpeace said. "The extreme heat and bush fires of New Year's Day 2006 showed that it isn't going to be fun."
The opposition Labor Party said Prime Minister John Howard's refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol has isolated Australia from international action against climate change.
Warmer-than-normal temperatures were not confined to Australia last year, with many other regions reporting an exceptionally warm year, the weather bureau said.