Last year was officially the Earth’s warmest since record-keeping began in the 1880s, the World Meteorological Organization announced Wednesday morning.
That means 2016 set a global heat record for the third year in a row according to NOAA and NASA, who held a joint press conference on Wednesday to discuss the record.
Not only was this the third consecutive year to rank hottest than all previous years, it also means 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to NOAA. To put this in perspective, the last time we had a record cold year was 1911.
Temperatures over the Earth’s continents and oceans in 2016 were 1.1 degree Celsius (1.98 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average, according to the WMO. That means we are already a majority of the way to the 1.5-degree warming goal set at the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.
To come up with its figures the WMO combined different global temperature datasets from various sources, including NOAA, NASA, the UK Met Office and the European weather and climate center, ECMWF.
Despite using different methods to compile and analyze the temperatures, all those agencies reached the same conclusion — that 2016 “continued the long-term trend of warming we have seen since the 1970s … and have not paused in any way,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
A record El Niño lasting from 2015 into 2016 played a role in further pushing the planet’s temperature higher. El Niños are weather phenomena that warm the Pacific Ocean and pump lots of excess heat into the atmosphere, raising global temperatures.
But El Niño is only one factor in the warming of the planet. And according to climate scientists, it’s a relatively small one when compared to the role that humans are playing.
“The record is due to a combination of the (natural) strong 2015-2016 El Niño (warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean surface) and the strong global warming trend that has continued from 1970 to the present,” James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told CNN.
But “the human-caused, long-term warming trend is the bigger contributor,” he added.