A new UNESCO report alleges that one-third of the glaciers in World Heritage sites are set to melt by 2050.

Not only are these glaciers an important part of the natural beauty of the famed sites, their loss will lead to even more water scarcity in communities around the world, the report says.

The news comes ahead of next week’s COP27 climate change conference in Egypt where world leaders will discuss fossil fuel cuts and ways to deal with more frequent extreme weather events, per CNN.

Which World Heritage Sites are at risk of glacial melting?

According to UNESCO, sites in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America and Oceania will lose glacial volume.

Notably, Africa could lose all of its glaciers by 2050, including those in Mount Kilimanjaro National Park and on Mount Kenya.

UNESCO data shows that the fastest melting glaciers are located in the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan protected areas in China. They also have the highest mass loss, having lost 57.2% of their total mass.

In Europe, glaciers in the Italian Dolomites and the Pyrenees Mont Perdu in Spain and France are projected to disappear altogether by 2050.

The second-highest glacial mass lost since 2000 occurred in Los Alcerces National Park in Argentina. Peru is also predicted to lose much or all of its glacial mass by 2050.

North America is could lose its iconic glaciers in both Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks within the next 30 years.

Since 2000, the glaciers in Te Wahipounamu, New Zealand has lost about 20% of their volume and are predicted to lose more.

Why are glaciers important?

Glaciers and glacial ecosystems fuel biodiversity and support much of life on Earth. They provide fresh water for reservoirs, homes, agriculture, industry and hydropower.

Glacial impact on biodiversity is so great that almost 30% of the world’s land species are directly supported by glaciers.

As climate change accelerates the glacial melting, they become less of a reliable water source for people and the ecosystems they support. According to UNESCO, glacial melt will likely temporarily increase. As the glaciers shrink, they won’t be able to produce as much runoff, thereby reducing their buffering capabilities during dry periods.

Glaciers also have cultural significance in various cultures, including to the Māori people. Legend has it that a Māori demigod, Hine Hukatere, cried a river of tears after her lover was swept away by an avalanche. Her tears froze, creating the glacier called Kā Roimata in Te Wahipounamu.

Can we stop the glaciers from melting?

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In evaluating effects of climate change, scientists turn to glaciers. Measuring glacial loss and its impacts allows them to identify potential solutions to save the world’s iconic glaciers.

According to the report, we can’t stop glacial melting altogether, but we can save two-thirds of the glaciers in World Heritage sites. The scientists behind the UNESCO report have determined that keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius may prevent melting beyond the estimated one-third of World Heritage glaciers.

In order to achieve this goal, the report encourages the development and implementation of solutions such as monitoring networks, glacier-focused policy, identifying and bridging knowledge gaps and early warning and risk management.

They also urge stakeholder involvement and the promotion of knowledge surrounding glaciers and the roles they play.

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