2016 declared hottest year on record

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Steam and exhaust spew from factories on a cold winter day in Oberhausen, Germany. Greenhouse gases are among the chief causes of global warming and climate change.
Lukas Schulze / Getty Images

It’s official: 2016 was the hottest year on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. 

The average global temperature was around 0.07 ºC warmer than the previous record-holder year – 2015 – and around 1.1 ºC higher than pre-Industrial times.

And this isn’t a chance event, says University of Melbourne climate scientist Andrew King: “Without our influence on the climate we wouldn’t be reaching these temperatures.”

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The World Meteorological Organisation incorporated data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. 

While the 2015-16 El Niño gave temperatures an uptick, “the major contributor [to] the long-term warming trend, with five- and 10-year average temperatures also reaching record highs”, says Blair Trewin, lead author of the 2016 WMO Global Climate Statement and climatologist at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

So what should we expect over the next 12 months? Trewin says that as this isn’t an El Niño year, the record is “unlikely to be broken again in 2017”. But because warming trends continue, “a new record is only a matter of time”.

We might even look back at these record years one day and consider them “cool”, says Australian National University climate scientist Sophie Lewis.

“Within just a decade or two, we can expect these record hot temperatures to become average or even cool years because of further greenhouse warming.”

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