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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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Environment

May 03, 2019

Almost Half of World Heritage Sites Could Lose Their Glaciers by 2100

The sites are home to some of the world’s most iconic glaciers, such as the Grosser Aletschgletscher in the Swiss Alps, Khumbu Glacier in the Himalayas or Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae.

This article was made available to The Outdoor Journal via a press release by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Glaciers are set to disappear completely from almost half of World Heritage sites if business-as-usual emissions continue, according to the first-ever global study of World Heritage glaciers, co-authored by scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“States must reinforce their commitments to combat climate”

The study, ‘Disappearing World Heritage glaciers as a keystone of nature conservation in a changing climate’, combines data from a global glacier inventory, a review of existing literature and sophisticated computer modelling to analyse the current state of World Heritage glaciers, their recent evolution, and their projected mass change over the 21st century. The authors predict glacier extinction by 2100 under a high emission scenario in 21 of the 46 natural World Heritage sites where glaciers are currently found. Even under a low emission scenario, 8 of the 46 World Heritage sites will be ice-free by 2100. The study also expects that 33% to 60% of the total ice volume present in 2017 will be lost by 2100, depending on the emission scenario.

Pizol Glacier, situated in the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona natural World heritage site, has undergone a dramatic retreat over the last decade. Only during the summer of 2018, the glacier lost 40% of its area. The glacier is expected to completely disappear within a few years. Photo by M. Huss

“Losing these iconic glaciers would be a tragedy and have major consequences for the availability of water resources, sea level rise and weather patterns,” said Peter Shadie, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme“This unprecedented decline could also jeopardise the listing of the sites in question on the World Heritage list. States must reinforce their commitments to combat climate change and step up efforts to preserve these glaciers for future generations.”

Several iconic landscapes found in World Heritage sites will be impacted by rising temperatures. Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina contains some of the largest glaciers on Earth and a very large ice loss – about 60% of the current volume – is predicted by 2100 within this site. In North America, Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks and Olympic National Park could lose more than 70% of their current glacier ice by 2100, even under drastically lowered CO2 emissions. In Europe, the disappearance of small glaciers is projected in the Pyrénées – Mont Perdu World Heritage site before 2040. Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand, which contains three-quarters of New Zealand’s glaciers, is projected to lose 25% to 80% of the current ice volume over the course of this century.

Beyond these alarming results, the authors emphasise the key role that glaciers play for ecosystems and societies at a global scale. Glacier conservation could thus serve as a trigger to tackle the unprecedented issue of climate change.

“To preserve the iconic glaciers found in World Heritage sites, we urgently need to see significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. This is the only way of avoiding long-lasting and irreversible glacier decline and the related major natural, social, economic and migratory cascading consequences,” said Jean-Baptiste Bosson, lead author of the study and member of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected areas“This study on glacier decline further emphasises the need for individual and collective actions to achieve the mitigation and adaptation aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

Climate change is the fastest growing threat to natural World Heritage sites, according to the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2 report, with the number of sites threatened by climate change doubling between 2014 and 2017.

Great Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in Central Europe, and is located in the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch natural World Heritage site. With a length of 23 km and a maximum ice thickness of more than 800 meters, it is one of the most famous glaciers worldwide. Photo by M. Huss

The authors of the study also developed the first-ever inventory of glaciers on the UNESCO World Heritage list, documenting about 19,000 glaciers present in 46 out of the 247 natural World Heritage sites.

The full study, published in the journal Earth’s Future, can be accessed here.

Cover Photo: Melting glaciers in Kilimanjaro National Park Photo by M. Huss

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Environment

Sep 04, 2019

The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it.

It’s official. The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from “poor” to “very poor” by the Australian government’s own experts.

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WRITTEN BY

Terry Hughes

That’s the conclusion of the latest five-yearly report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, released on Friday. The report assessed literally hundreds of scientific studies published on the reef’s declining condition since the last report was published in 2014.

The past five years were a game-changer. Unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching episodes in 2016 and 2017, triggered by record-breaking warm sea temperatures, severely damaged two-thirds of the reef. Recovery since then has been slow and patchy.

Fish swimming among coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

Looking to the future, the report said “the current rate of global warming will not allow the maintenance of a healthy reef for future generations […] the window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now”.

But that window of opportunity is being squandered so long as Australia’s and the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

The evidence on the reef’s condition is unequivocal

A logical national response to the outlook report would be a pledge to curb activity that contributes to global warming and damages the reef. Such action would include a ban on the new extraction of fossil fuels, phasing out coal-fired electricity generation, transitioning to electrified transport, controlling land clearing and reducing local stressors on the reef such as land-based runoff from agriculture.

But federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s response to the outlook report suggested she saw no need to take dramatic action on emissions, when she declared: “it’s the best managed reef in the world”.

Major coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have devastated the reef.

The federal government’s lack of climate action was underscored by another dire report card on Friday. Official quarterly greenhouse gas figures showed Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen to the highest annual levels since the 2012-13 financial year.

But rather than meaningfully tackle Australia’s contribution to climate change, the federal government has focused its efforts on fixing the damage wrought on the reef. For example as part of a A$444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the government has allocated $100 million for reef restoration and adaptation projects over the next five years or so.

Solutions being supported by the foundation include a sunscreen-like film to float on the water to prevent light penetration, and gathering and reseeding coral spawn Separately, Commonwealth funds are also being spent on projects such as giant underwater fans to bring cooler water to the surface.

But the scale of the problem is much, much larger than these tiny interventions.


Climate change is not the only threat to the reef

The second biggest impact on the Great Barrier Reef’s health is poor water quality, due to nutrient and sediment runoff into coastal habitats. Efforts to address that problem are also going badly.

This was confirmed in a confronting annual report card on the reef’s water quality, also released by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments on Friday.

The Great Barrier Reef attained world heritage status in the 1980s.
AAP

It showed authorities have failed to reach water quality targets set under the Reef 2050 Plan – Australia’s long-term plan for improving the condition of the reef.

For example the plan sets a target that by 2025, 90% of sugarcane land in reef catchments should have adopted improved farming practices. However the report showed the adoption had occurred on just 9.8% of land, earning the sugarcane sector a grade of “E”.

So yes, the reef is definitely in danger

The 2019 outlook report and other submissions from Australia will be assessed next year when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meets to determine if the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” – an outcome the federal government will fight hard to avoid.

An in-danger listing would signal to the world that the reef was in peril, and put the federal government under greater pressure to urgently prevent further damage. Such a listing would be embarrassing for Australia, which presents itself as a world’s-best manager of its natural assets.

Environment activists engaged in a protest action to bring attention to the dangers facing the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

The outlook report maintains that the attributes of the Great Barrier Reef
that led to its inscription as a world heritage area in 1981 are still intact, despite the loss of close to half of the corals in 2016 and 2017.

But by any rational assessment, the Great Barrier Reef is in danger. Most of the pressures on the reef are ongoing, and some are escalating – notably anthropogenic heating, also known as human-induced climate change.

Read more:
Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief scientist: science will lie at the heart of our decisions

And current efforts to protect the reef are demonstrably failing. For example despite an ongoing “control” program, outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish – triggered by poor water quality – have spread throughout the reef.

The federal government has recently argued that climate change should not form the basis for an in-danger listing, because rising emissions are not the responsibility of individual countries. The argument comes despite Australia having one of the highest per capita emissions rates in the world.

But as Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise – an outcome supported by government policy – the continued downward trajectory of the Great Barrier Reef is inevitable.The Conversation

Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: A supplied image obtained Thursday, June 6, 2013 of holiday makers in the Great Barrier Reef, Tropical North Queensland, October 2008. ReefLive, a live 12-hour interactive online show about the reef, will be broadcast on YouTube from 10am (AEST) on Friday to coincide with World Ocean Day on Saturday. (AAP Image/Supplied by Tourism and Events Queensland, Richard Fitzpatrick) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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