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Glaciers are disappearing

UNESCO finds that some iconic World Heritage glaciers will disappear by 2050
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Small icebergs broken off from the large glacier at Vatnajökull, Iceland

New UNESCO data highlight the accelerated melting of glaciers in World Heritage sites, with glaciers in a third of sites set to disappear by 2050.

But it is still possible to save the other two thirds, if the rise in global temperatures does not exceed 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial period. This will be a major challenge for COP27.

Glaciers in World Heritage sites

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 glacierised area.

They include the highest (next to Mount 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.

The 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 tonnes 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

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 with the pre-industrial period.

‘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. COP27 will have a crucial role to help find solutions to this issue, and UNESCO is determined to support states in pursuing this goal.’

UNESCO director-general

A fund for glaciers

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.

‘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. 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.’

IUCN directo-general

Examples of endangered glaciers


According to available data, glaciers in all World Heritage sites in Africa will very likely be gone by 2050, including Kilimanjaro National Park and Mount Kenya.


Glaciers in Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas (China) have experienced the highest mass loss relative to 2000 (57.2%) and contain 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) are very likely to disappear by 2050. Glaciers in The Dolomites (Italy) are also very likely to disappear by 2050.


Glaciers in Los Alerces National Park (Argentina) have the highest mass loss relative to 2000 (45.6%). Glaciers in Huascaran National Park (Peru) have shrunk by 15% since 2000.


Glaciers in Yellowstone National Park (United States of America) are very likely to disappear by 2050.

Glaciers in Yosemite National Park (United States of America) are also 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.

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