A third of world heritage glaciers under threat, warns UNESCO study

Published - November 05, 2022 08:45 pm IST

A third of the glaciers on the UNESCO World Heritage list are under threat, regardless of efforts to limit temperature increases, a study conducted by the UN body has found.

However, the study said that it was still possible to save the other two-thirds if the rise in global temperatures did not exceed 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era. The UNESCO said this would be a major challenge for the delegates at the upcoming COP27.

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held from November 6-18 this year in Egypt.

"COP27 will have a crucial role to help find solutions to this issue. The UNESCO is determined to support states in pursuing this goal," UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said.

In addition to drastically reduced carbon emissions, the UNESCO is advocating for the creation of a new 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, the study said.

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, it said.

"When glaciers melt rapidly, millions of people face water scarcity and the increased risk of natural disasters such as flooding, and millions more may be displaced by the resulting rise in sea levels," IUCN Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said.

"This study highlights the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions and invest in nature-based solutions, which can help mitigate climate change and allow people to better adapt to its impacts," he added.

As many as 50 UNESCO World Heritage sites are home to glaciers, representing almost 10 per cent of the Earth's total glacierised area.

The UNESCO study, in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), showed that 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 tonne 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.

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