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In North America and around the world, 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are home to glaciers. A new study warns that a third of glaciers will disappear by 2050 due to global warming carbon emissions.
The other two-thirds can still be saved – but only if global temperatures do not rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, according to UNESCO.
World Heritage sites are places that possess exceptional natural and cultural heritage, and which world leaders have therefore agreed to protect.
The UNESCO report, published ahead of the COP27 climate conference which begins on Sunday in Egypt, is being prepared.
Around 18,600 glaciers are found in World Heritage Sites, and they make up about a tenth of the glacial area on Earth – but they’re shrinking fast. Glaciers at these 50 sites lose some 58 billion tonnes of ice each year and contribute nearly 5% of observed sea level rise globally.
Affected glaciers cover the world
The last remaining glaciers in Africa are expected to melt by 2050, including those in Kilimanjaro National Park and Mount Kenya. The fastest melting glaciers on the list are those in the Three Parallel Rivers National Park in China’s Yunnan province. The glaciers there have already lost more than 57% of their mass since 2000.
In the United States, glaciers in Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks will likely be gone by 2050. Glaciers along the Canada-US border at Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park have already lost more than a quarter of their volume over the last 20 years. years.
Other glaciers at risk include those in the Italian Dolomites, the French Pyrenees, Los Alerces National Park in Argentina, Huascarán National Park in Peru and Te Wahipounamu in New Zealand.
Melting glaciers will make water scarcer for millions
Melting glaciers impact not just the environment, but people, Bruno Oberle, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in a statement on Thursday.
“When glaciers melt rapidly, millions of people face water scarcity and increased risk of natural disasters such as floods, and millions more could be displaced by rising sea levels. results,” Oberle said.
“This study highlights the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in nature-based solutions, which can help mitigate climate change and enable people to better adapt to its impacts,” he added.
As world climate leaders gather for COP27, UNESCO is calling for the creation of an international fund for glacier monitoring and preservation that would support research, strengthen links between stakeholders and implement disaster risk and early warning measures.
“This report is a call to action,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. “Only a rapid reduction of our CO2 emission levels can save glaciers and the exceptional biodiversity that depends on them.”