UNESCO finds that some iconic World Heritage glaciers will disappear by 2050
50 UNESCO World Heritage sites are home to glaciers (A total of 18,600 glaciers have been identified in these 50 sites, covering around 66,000 km2), representing almost 10% of the Earth’s total glacierized area. They include the highest (next to Mt. Everest), the longest (in Alaska), and the last remaining glaciers in Africa, amongst others, giving a representative overview of the general situation of glaciers in the world.
But a new study by UNESCO, in partnership with IUCN, shows these glaciers have been retreating at an accelerated rate since 2000 due to CO2 emissions, which are warming temperatures. They are currently losing 58 billion tons of ice every year – equivalent to the combined annual water use of France and Spain– and are responsible for nearly 5% of observed global sea-level rise.
Only one effective solution: quickly reduce CO2 emissions
The report concludes that glaciers in a third of the 50 World Heritage sites are condemned to disappear by 2050, regardless of efforts to limit temperature increases. But it is still possible to save the glaciers in the remaining two thirds of sites if the rise in temperatures does not exceed 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial period.
In addition to drastically reduced carbon emissions, UNESCO is advocating for the creation of an international fund for glacier monitoring and preservation. Such a fund would support comprehensive research, promote exchange networks between all stakeholders and implement early warning and disaster risk reduction measures.
Half of humanity depends directly or indirectly on glaciers as their water source for domestic use, agriculture, and power. Glaciers are also pillars of biodiversity, feeding many ecosystems.
Examples of endangered glaciers by region
- According to available data, glaciers in all World Heritage sites in Africa will very likely be gone by 2050, incl. Kilimanjaro National Park and Mount Kenya
- Glaciers in Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas (China) – #1 highest mass loss relative to 2000 (57.2%) and also the fastest melting glacier on the List
- Glaciers in Western Tien-Shan (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan) have shrunk by 27% since 2000
- Glaciers in Pyrenees Mont Perdu (France, Spain) – very likely to disappear by 2050
- Glaciers in The Dolomites (Italy) – very likely to disappear by 2050
- Glaciers in Los Alerces National Park (Argentina) – #2 highest mass loss relative to 2000 (45.6%)
- Glaciers in Huascaran National Park (Peru) have shrunk by 15% since 2000
- Glacierized patches in Yellowstone National Park (United States of America) – very likely to disappear by 2050
- Glaciers in Yosemite National Park (United States of America) – very likely to disappear by 2050
- Glaciers in Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (Canada, United States of America) have lost 26.5% of their volume in 20 years
- Glaciers in Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand (New Zealand) have lost almost 20% of their volume since 2000
UNESCO thanks IUCN, ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), and the Space Geophysics and Oceanography Studies Laboratory (LEGOS) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) for their contribution to this study.
Note on the methodology
Glaciers in World Heritage sites have been identified by overlaying the delineation of sites with data from the Randolph Glacier Inventory (RGI) and Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) databases. These databases are among the most comprehensive inventories of glaciers worldwide and provide information (e.g. glacier geometry, glacier area, snowlines, supraglacial lakes and rock debris, and other glacial attributes) for more than 200,000 glaciers.
In the case of Yellowstone and its close vicinity, 8 glaciers (most probably very small ice patches) covering only 3km2 have been identified. The RGI and GLIMS databases are regularly updated so it could be that some of these glaciers or very small ice patches might have already disappeared, which comes to assert our projections.
François Wibaux, email@example.com, +33767015995