2015 was the hottest year on record

Getty Images

Last year was the hottest recorded on Earth since officials began tracking temperature trends in 1880, federal scientists announced Wednesday. 

The 2015 record breaks the one set in 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA said, but the degree to which it bested that mark is unprecedented.

ADVERTISEMENT
The average surface temperature across the globe was 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. That broke the previous year’s record by nearly 0.3 degrees, the largest margin by which a temperature record has been broken, the agencies said. 

2015 became the fourth year since 2000 to break the annual temperature record. Ten months broke their monthly temperature marks last year, the agencies added, including five that bested the previous mark by record-high margins.

Officials said Wednesday that the record can be tied directly to long-term warming trends, the basis for climate change science. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that trend is set to accelerate due to growing carbon emissions around the world.

Last year would have been the warmest on record even without the El Niño weather pattern that developed late in the year, Schmidt said. 

“The trend over time is why we’re having the record warm year,” he said. “The reason why this is a record warm year is became of the long-term, underlying trend, and there is no evidence that long-term trend has slowed, paused or hiatused at any point in the last few decades.”

Thomas Karl, the director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, added, “The 2015 data continues the trend we have seen over the last four or five decades.” 

Last year was the second-warmest year on record in the United States, NASA announced earlier this month. Officials attributed the near-record in the U.S. to a host of events, including El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, climate change and unique temperature patterns that developed throughout the year.

Federal scientists have never seen three global record-setting years in the row, and they said Wednesday that the warming isn’t likely to slow down now. 

“2016 — if you’re going to be betting, you’re going to bet it’s going to be warmer than 2015,” Karl said.

The temperature record will add fuel to a push by environmentalists, Democrats and the Obama administration to confront climate change. 

International negotiators finalized a major climate change accord last month, agreeing to begin reducing carbon emissions around the world in order to eventually slow down global warming.

In the United States, Democrats, including President Obama, have used the specter of a temperature record in 2015 to call for more work on carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. 

“Even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record — until 2015 turned out to be even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” Obama asked during his State of the Union address earlier this month, saying more needs to be done, regardless of temperature records, to invest in the renewable energy sector.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersDems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz Overnight Finance: GOP makes its case for impeaching IRS chief | Clinton hits Trump over housing crash remarks | Ryan's big Puerto Rico win Ex-DNC official: I’m ‘neutral’ in Wasserman Schultz’s race MORE put out a statement on Wednesday tying the host of broken records to climate change. 

“Climate change is real and is caused by human activity,” he said. “This planet and its people are in trouble. Unless we get our act together, we will see in years to come more droughts, more floods and more extreme weather disturbances.”

—This post was updated at 12:00 p.m.