By making environmental protection a moral imperative, Francis' intervention could spur the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to lobby policymakers on ecology issues.

Washington - The contiguous 48 US states recorded the hottest year since scientists began collecting temperatures in 1895, according to a government report on Tuesday.

In its annual report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the annual average temperature in 2012 was 12.94 degrees Celsius.

That figure compared to the average temperature of 11.11 degrees Celsius observed in the previous 117 years. It was also more than half a degree hotter than the 12.38 degrees Celsius recorded in the previous record warm year of 1998.

Jake Crouch, a NOAA scientists, told reporters he found the speed with which temperatures rose “surprising.”

“The temperatures are increasing and will keep increasing in the next years,” he told reporters in a telephone briefing. - Sapa-dpa