February set a record for the hottest month since records began, the latest figures from NASA show.

The NASA data confirms preliminary analysis that February was the hottest month on record, with global surface temperatures at 1.35 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. This was also 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous record, set just one month earlier in January.

The figures compare each month going back to 1880 against average temperatures between 1951 and 1980, showing that February smashed records by a huge margin.

Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said on Twitter that he does not normally comment on individual months because there is “too much weather, not enough climate” but last month was “special”.

Source: Twitter

Commenting on the data, Jeff Masters and Bob Henson of the Weather Underground website said: “NASA dropped a bombshell of a climate report. February dispensed with the one-month-old record by a full 0.21 degrees Celsius – an extraordinary margin to beat a monthly world temperature record by.”

“This result is a true shocker, and yet another reminder of the incessant long-term rise in global temperature resulting from human-produced greenhouse gases.

“We are now hurtling at a frightening pace toward the globally agreed maximum of 2 degrees Celsius warming over pre-industrial levels.”

Why is 2 degrees so significant?

The 2 degrees Celsius mark is held as a significant point for life on earth, and has traditionally featured strongly in climate discussions. The Paris Agreement, drafted last December, aims to limit warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, with a more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees.

The benchmark was first defined in a 1977 paper by a Yale economist, William Nordhaus. The figure has evolved to become the focus of calls for climate action.

As Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told CBS News last autumn: “Science has established for quite a while that we need to respect a threshold of 2 degrees, that being the limit of the temperature increase that we can afford from a human, economic and infrastructure point of view.”

By exceeding this figure, the human race would move “into exceedingly dangerous zones of abrupt interruptions to our economy, to our livelihood, to our infrastructure that frankly we wouldn’t even know how to deal with”.

Others argue that even 2 degrees is too much, and we should be pushing much harder for a lower threshold.