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UN says 2016 will be the hottest year on record

Driven by greenhouse gases and the El Niño event of last winter, the United Nations says 2016 is almost certainly going to be the hottest year on record.
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Driven by greenhouse gases and the El Niño event of last winter, the United Nations says 2016 is almost certainly going to be the hottest year on record.

In a report released Monday, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says that this year is likely to beat 2015's record-breaking heat, with global temperatures at around 1.2 C above pre-industrial levels.

It means that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record will have occurred this century – the other one was 1998.

Even though global carbon emissions have plateaued in the last three years, the concentrations of major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere remain at record-breaking levels, and this was compounded by the El Niño event that brought warmer temperatures at the start of the year, the WMO says.

"Another year. Another record. The high temperatures we saw in 2015 are set to be beaten in 2016," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue."

Climate change is already contributing to a rise in extreme weather events, the UN's weather department notes, with "once in a generation" heatwaves and flooding becoming more regular.

Meanwhile, sea levels are rising partly because of ongoing melting in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, with parts of Arctic Russia experiencing temperatures 6-7 C above the long-term average, while the Greenland ice sheet has started melting earlier than usual.

Parts of Minnesota, including the Twin Cities, have this year experienced the latest fall freeze on record, with MPR reporting last year that a longer growing season is one of the signs the state is experiencing climate change.

WMO cites importance of Paris Agreement

The WMO says this makes it more important than ever that the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to 1.5-2C, signed by more than 200 countries, is put into action.

CBC has put together a model showing how the world could change if the global temperature rises by 2C and 4C, with crop failure, coastal flooding, water shortages, disease and extreme heat among the impacts.

Reducing greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, is seen as the best bet at limiting temperatures rises, and carbon accounts for almost two-thirds of the human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Carbon emissions have actually leveled off over the past three years, which according to The Guardian is due to China – the world's biggest polluter – burning less coal amid a wider crackdown on pollution.

But even the Paris Agreement in its current form, ratified last December, will not be enough to limit temperature rises to 2C, with countries needing to increase their efforts to reduce emissions, the newspaper notes.

There have been added concerns this past week about the future of the world's second biggest polluter – the United States – following the election of the Donald Trump.

A source close to Trump told Reuters that the President-elect is seeking quick ways to remove the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, trying to bypass the four-year withdrawal period set out in the treaty.

Trump is looking to boost America's energy independence and the economy by freeing up restrictions on oil, shale and coal production, according to his policy page.

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