Britain is on course for the warmest year since records began, according to figures from the Met Office and the University of East Anglia yesterday.

Temperatures logged by weather stations across England reveal 2006 to have been unusually mild, with a mean temperature of 10.84C.

The record beats the previous two joint hottest years of 1999 and 1990 by 0.21C. Temperatures in central England have been recorded since 1659, the world's longest climate record, and they indicate the trend towards warming weather across Britain as a whole.

Experts are convinced that the warming can only be explained by rising greenhouse gases from human activity and rule out the impact of natural variations, such as the sun's intensity. "Our climate models show we should be getting warmer and drier weather in the summer, and warmer and wetter in the winter, and that's exactly what we're seeing," said Phil Jones, director of the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia. "I cannot see how else this can be explained."

"2006 has been quite extraordinary in terms of the UK temperature, with several records being broken," commented Met Office climate scientist David Parker. "The figures support recent research... which showed links between human behaviour and the warming trend."

Globally, temperatures were 0.42C above the average for the period 1961-1990. By comparison, 1998 was 0.52C above average.

The researchers say temperatures were cooled in the first half of the year by La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

During La Nina, sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific fall below normal. La Nina conditions are one extreme of a natural cycle which also incorporates El Nino, associated with higher global temperatures.

Parts of Australia are experiencing their worst drought on record, which is reducing economic growth.