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Hikers near glaciers in the Dolomite mountains
Photograph: Shutterstock

These iconic Unesco World Heritage sites will look very different by 2050 – here’s why

Glaciers around the world are melting at alarming rates and changing the face of spectacular natural landscapes

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

From searing heatwaves and catastrophic flooding to more frequent and severe extreme weather events, climate change is already having a devastating impact on the planet. And in the coming decades it’s looking even bleaker: should governments fail to tackle global warming, things could get much, much worse.

Take Unesco World Heritage sites, for instance. A recent official report from Unesco highlights that a whopping one-third of all glaciers in Word Heritage sites could disappear by 2050. That’s right: a third.

And included in that list are some of the world’s most famous natural landscapes. The glaciers of Yellowstone and Yosemite in the USA are deemed ‘very likely’ to disappear within the next thirty years, as are those in European mountain ranges the Pyrenees (specifically at Mont Perdu) and the Dolomites.

Unesco also marks out the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro as being at risk of melting away, as well as those in Argentina’s Los Alerces National Park and at Te Wahipounamu in New Zealand. Unesco-protected glaciers alone are losing 58 billion tonnes of ice every year – and they only cover 10 percent of all glaciers on the planet.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about with glaciers, the issue isn’t just that these magnificent landscapes will look different. Melting glaciers can also be seriously dangerous, causing everything from avalanches to mass flooding events. Plus, glaciers are vital water sources, helping human communities and animal habitats thrive.

So what can we do about this? Well, at this point it’s more about damage limitation, but Unesco says that there’s only one real solution: to reduce carbon emissions. According to the report, glaciers in the likes of Yosemite and the Dolomites are as good as lost, but in order to preserve the rest of the glaciers in the world, global warming will need to be kept within 1.5C of pre-industrial levels.

You can read the full Unesco report for yourself here – and if you’d like to do something to help bring about change, here’s our guide on how to be a sustainable tourist.

Did you see that these nine cities could be underwater by 2030?

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