- Patrick Hughes
- BBC News Climate and science
Glaciers around the world – including the last one in Africa – will inevitably disappear by 2050 due to climate change, according to a United Nations report.
One third glaciers located at UN World Heritage sites will melt within three decades, a UNESCO report details.
The last glaciers Kilimanjaro will disappear, like a glacier Alps and Yosemite National Park in the United States.
They will melt regardless of actions taken to combat climate change, the authors say.
The report, which provides projections based on satellite data, was released as world leaders prepare to meet in Egypt at the COP27 climate change conference next week.
About 18,600 glaciers have been identified in 50 UN World Heritage Sites. They represent almost 10% of the area covered by glaciers on Earth and include famous tourist spots and sacred places for the local population.
The retreat and disappearance of glaciers is “one of the most dramatic pieces of evidence that the Earth’s climate is warming,” the report said.
“We hope we are wrong, but this is solid science,” said Tales Carvalho Resende, UNESCO project manager and one of the authors.
“Glaciers are one of valuable indicators of climate change, because they are visible. This is something we can really see happening.”
The remaining two-thirds of glaciers in UN World Heritage Sites could be saved, but only if the world limits global warming to 1.5°C, say the authors. Another UN report last week concluded that the world currently has “no credible plan” to achieve this.
The projections are based on an earlier report that used models to estimate how glaciers at World Heritage sites would change over time.
“What is unprecedented in the historical record is speed up that this is happening,” said Beata Csatho, a glaciologist at the University of Buffalo in the US, who was not involved in the research.
“In the middle of the 20th century, the glaciers were pretty stable,” he said. “Then there’s the incredibly fast withdrawal.”
World heritage sites with glaciers that will disappear by 2050 are:
- Hyrcanian forests (Iran)
- Durmitor National Park (Montenegro)
- Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
- Panoramic and historically interesting area of Huanglong (China)
- Yellowstone National Park (USA)
- Mount Kenya National Park/Wild Forest (Kenya)
- Pyrenees – Monte Perdido (France, Spain)
- Rwenzori Mountain National Park (Uganda)
- Putorana Plateau (Russia)
- Swiss tectonic site Sardon (Switzerland)
- Nahanni National Park (Canada)
- Lorentz National Park (Indonesia)
- Wrangel Island Nature Reserve (Russia)
- Kilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania)
- Yosemite National Park (USA)
- Los Dolomites (Italy)
- Virgin Komi forests (Russia)
The report says ice loss in World Heritage areas could cause up to 4.5% of global sea level rise observed between 2000 and 2020. These glaciers lose 58 billion tons of ice each year, equivalent to the total annual water used in France and Spain combined.
Without glaciers there is no water
Many people also rely on glaciers as a source of water for home use and agricultureand its loss could lead to fresh water shortages during dry seasons, said Duncan Quincey, a glaciology expert at the University of Leeds, UK, who was not involved in the research.
“That leads to food security issues because they were using that water to irrigate their crops,” Quincey explained.
Local communities and indigenous peoples will bear the brunt of floods caused by glacial losses, say the report’s authors, who call on settlers early warning systems and disaster risk reduction.
However, the most obvious thing to do is limit it global warming.
“There is a message of hope here,” Carvalho Resende said. “If we can drastically reduce emissionswe will be able to save most of these glaciers.”
“This is really a call to action at all levels, not just at the political level, but at our level as human beings.”
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