World-famous glaciers ‘to disappear by 2050’

Reuters file photo
A lake at the bottom of the Rhone Glacier in Obergoms, Switzerland, is seen on Sept. 1.

PARIS (Reuters) — Some of the world’s most famous glaciers, including in the Dolomites in Italy, the Yosemite and Yellowstone parks in the United States and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, are set to disappear by 2050 due to global warming, whatever the temperature rise scenario, according to a UNESCO report.

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO monitors some 18,600 glaciers across 50 of its World Heritage sites and said that glaciers in one third of World Heritage sites will disappear by 2050 regardless of the applied climate scenario.

While the rest can be saved by keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 C relative to preindustrial levels, in a business-as-usual emissions scenario, about 50% of these World Heritage glaciers could almost entirely disappear by 2100.

“This report is a call to action. Only a rapid reduction in our CO2 emissions levels can save glaciers and the exceptional biodiversity that depends on them,” Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s Director General, said in a statement.

She added that the U.N.’s COP27 cimate conference will have a crucial role to help find solutions to this issue.

World Heritage glaciers as defined by UNESCO represent about 10% of the world’s glacier areas and include some of the world’s best-known glaciers, whose loss is highly visible as they are focal points for global tourism.

The report’s lead author Tales Carvalho told Reuters that World Heritage glaciers lose on average some 58 billion tons of ice every year — equivalent to the total annual volume of water used in France and Spain together — and contribute to almost 5% of global observed sea-level rise.

UNESCO recommends that given the inevitable further shrinking of many of these glaciers in the near future, local authorities should make glaciers a focus of policy, by improving monitoring and research and by implementing disaster risk reduction measures.

“As glacier lakes fill up, they can burst and can cause catastrophic floods downstream,” Carvalho said.