A new United Nations study concludes that one-third of the world’s major glaciers will be gone by 2050 at their current rate of melting.
The study, released Thursday, was conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The research focused on glaciers in 50 designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The heritage sites are home to 18,600 glaciers spanning around 66,000 kilometers and representing almost 10% of areas covered by glaciers.
The researchers say the glaciers at these sites have been retreating at an accelerated rate since 2000 due to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which lead to warmer temperatures.
The researchers report the glaciers 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.
The glaciers at these sites include the highest in the world, near Mount Everest in the Himalayas, on the border of Nepal and China; the longest, found in Alaska; and Africa’s last remaining glaciers, including Kilimanjaro National Park and Mount Kenya.
Glaciers in Europe and Latin America are likely to vanish as well.
The report concludes that glaciers in the heritage sites are likely to disappear in the next 28 years, regardless of efforts to limit temperature increases. The researchers say 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 degrees Celsius, 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 among all stakeholders and implement early warning and disaster risk reduction measures.
With the report released just three days before the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP27) begins in Sharm El-Sheikh Egypt, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said the report “is a call to action.”
From her Twitter account, Azoulay wrote, “Only a rapid reduction in our CO2 emissions levels can save glaciers and the exceptional biodiversity that depends on them. COP27 will have a crucial role to find solutions. UNESCO will support states in pursuing this goal.”
Some information in this report came from Reuters.