July 17, 2015 1:43 PM EDT

The average temperature around the world was higher last year than any year since modern record keeping began, climate experts said on July 16.

The findings, published in a new report in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, show climate trends across the globe in 2014. Researchers from all six inhabited continents found a worldwide sea level rise and record high concentrations of major greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

“Many of these things aren’t isolated,” said Thomas Karl, an official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on a conference call for journalists. “It’s a whole global climate system and though we do decompose and focus on individual variables, these things are inextricably linked to each other.”

Almost every region in the world saw an increase in temperature, with the eastern part of North America standing out as the major exception. Twenty countries, including Mexico and many in Europe, set heat records. Overall, the past 18 years have seen 17 of the warmest years on record. The Arctic region, for example, had its fourth warmest year and also saw a decline in sea ice. The level of ice in September was nearly 20% below the average over the past three decades. The eight lowest levels have all occurred in the last eight years, according to the report.

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The report’s results are the latest in the growing evidence of the effects of climate change. “The report of new records in several key climate markers should not surprise us,” said Jeffrey R. White, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, in an emailed statement. “Earth’s land, ocean and atmosphere system is absorbing the heat with dramatic consequences that will play out in complex ways over time.”

The report comes months before a United Nations conference on climate change that many hope will yield a binding agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But even a strong agreement will face a challenge that’s difficult to stop in its tracks.

“I think of it more like a flywheel or a freight train,” said NOAA oceanographer Greg Johnson on a conference call with journalists. “It takes a big push to get it going, but it is moving now and will continue to move long after we stop pushing it.”

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Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

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