World has hottest year on record

By Mike Osborne

The world endured its hottest year ever in 2016 prompting calls for Australia and other countries to move quicker to cut greenhouse gas emissions to halt global warming.

The World Meteorological Organisation says global average temperatures were 0.07C warmer than the previous hottest year in 2015 and 1.1C higher than during the pre-industrial period.

The Climate Council says the latest data shows that the window of opportunity to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change is almost closed.

While scientists have urged more rapid and drastic cuts to greenhouse emissions to limit global warming to the two degrees proposed in the Paris agreement.

"Month after month, year after year, we are seeing records fall and every year without effective action makes the task of applying the brakes on the long-term trend more difficult," the Climate Council's Professor Will Steffen said.

"We aren't moving nearly fast enough on emission reductions."

Without action the record-breaking temperatures experienced in 2016 would soon become the norm, Australian National University climate scientist Sophie Lewis said.

"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," Dr Lewis said.

Climate extremes research fellow at the University of Melbourne Andrew King said extreme events during the past year, including the mass bleaching for the Great Barrier Reef, were a sign of things to come unless more action was taken.

"We have to make rapid and drastic cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions," Dr King said.

"If we don't do this we'll see more damaging extreme events in Australia and across the world."

WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said while 2016 stood out as the hottest year on record, temperatures only told part of the story.

"Long-term indicators of human-caused climate change reached new heights in 2016," he said.

"Carbon dioxide and methane concentrations surged to new records. Both contribute to climate change."

The Climate Council said it had conducted its own analysis of the latest data which revealed Autumn 2016 was Australia's warmest on record and ocean temperatures around Australia hit record levels last year.

It said the climate change was also worsening heat-related events as evidenced by the reef's coral bleaching, a large mangrove dieback in northern Australia, a major algae bloom in the Murray River, and bushfires in Tasmania's world heritage forests.