The last three years have been the hottest ever, and experts warn we are creating an "inhospitable planet".

By Joe McDonough

Posted on January 19, 2018

While 2016 remains the hottest year since global records began, it was helped by the effect of an El Nino. Not 2017, which scorched its way into the top three hottest years ever, without the warming climate cycle.

It just edged 2015, also a non-El Nino year, by less than one hundredth of a degree.

The three global temperature records are compiled by the UK’s Met Office, and Nasa and Noaa in the United States. The Met Office said the average temperature in 2017 was 0.99C above that seen from 1850-1900, despite the Pacific Ocean transitioning into its cooler La Niña phase.

Regardless of climate drivers, the data published on Thursday shows that the last three years have been the hottest the earth has faced. Additionally, 17 of the 18 hottest years recorded since 1850 have occurred since 2000.

“2015, 2016 and 2017 have been confirmed as the three warmest years on record,” the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said.

“The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, and that trend is an upward one,” WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

“And the degree of warming during the past three years has been exceptional.”

The degree of warming during the past three years has been exceptional.

Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the NASA lab that contributed to the analysis, says “the overall picture is very, very clear and coherent… The long term trends are all very clear independent of who is doing these analyses”.

“Individual ranking of years is not necessarily the most important thing,” he told the New York Times. “What we’re seeing is an increasing string of years of temperatures more than 1 degree above the pre-industrial era. And we’re not going to go back.”

Global warming reaching worrying heights

The target of keeping the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels — as set out by the Paris climate agreement in 2015 and signed by 195 nations — is already under threat according to experts.

This is yet another wake-up call to develop a zero carbon economy before it’s too late.

Dr Dann Mitchell, at the University of Bristol, said: “We are getting ever closer to the Paris agreement target of 1.5C which we are so desperately trying to avoid.”

“When even ‘colder’ (non-El Nino) years are rewriting the warmest year record books we know we have a problem,” said Dave Reay, the Carbon Management chair at the University of Edinburgh.

“Global temperatures will continue to bob up and down from year to year, but the climate tide beneath them is rising fast.”

Indeed, according to MWO data released on Monday, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached record levels last year, numbers that have in the past been seen with global temperatures 2 to 3 degrees warmer and sea levels 10 to 20 metres higher than present.

“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” Taalas​ added in his statement. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”

Prof Martin Siegert at Imperial College London agrees. “Despite our best efforts so far, global warming continues apace,” he said. “This is yet another wake-up call to develop a zero carbon economy before it’s too late.”

Extreme weather and climate-related disasters have intensified in the past year too. The US in particular was ravaged by hurricanes, and floods bashed Asian coastlines — all symptoms of global warming, according to Professor Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University.

“The impacts of that warming – unprecedented wildfires, superstorms and floods – are now plain for all to see. There has never been greater urgency.”

The release of the annual WMO data comes just a week before the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference convenes in Bonn, Germany.

The meeting will provide an update on progress of the Paris Climate accord in 2015 and identify gaps between national pledges to cut emissions and meet the agreed upon warming limit.