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2016 was the warmest year on record, UN agency says

Larry Dale Gordon | Perspectives | Getty Images

Last year was the warmest on record and the planet saw exceptionally low sea ice along with unabated sea level rise and ocean heat, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday.

The Geneva-based WMO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, added that 2017 has seen extreme weather and climate conditions only continue. The WMO's annual State of the Global Climate statement was released ahead of World Meteorological Day on Thursday.

"This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 (degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 (degrees Celsius) above the previous record set in 2015," Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general, said in a news release.

"This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system," Taalas added. "Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year."

Taalas went on to add that with levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system had "become more and more evident."

Warming in 2016 was "boosted" by a powerful 2015-2016 El Niño event, the WMO also said, alongside "long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, El Niño and La Niña refer to the "warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific."

The WMO said that extremes had continued into 2017.

"Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system," David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme, said in a statement. "We are now in truly uncharted territory."

Reacting to the WMO's statement, Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Andrew Pendleton said that climate change was not "something for our children to face in the future – it's happening to us now, and many of these observed changes are worse than predicted. It's crucial that we act faster and with more determination than ever before."

"Everyone concerned about these stark warnings from nature must join the growing international movement to stop climate change before it's unstoppable," Pendleton went on to add.