logo

Inveniam viam aut faciam

- Hannibal Barca

image

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

Continue Reading

image

Environment

Sep 17, 2019

India Must Stop Deforesting its Mountains if it Wants to Fight Floods.

During floods and landslides in August 2019, two villages were completely destroyed killing several people, while a year earlier Kerala saw its worst floods in a century.

image

WRITTEN BY

Gayathri D Naik

Floods are now an annual nightmare in many parts of southern and western India. Valleys in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala that weren’t considered flood-prone until recently are at risk.

These floods appear to be getting more severe. Climate change is causing stronger and more erratic rainfall with recurrent floods in low-lying areas while population growth is putting more people in risky areas. And another problem comes from deforestation in the mountain range where much of the water first fell: the Western Ghats.

More than 500 people died in severe flooding in Kerala in 2018.
AJP / shutterstock

The Western Ghats run for 1,600km in parallel with India’s west coast, from Gujarat right down to Tamil Nadu at the tip of the subcontinent. It is – or was – a picturesque landscape of serene valleys, steep gorges and virgin forests. Yet recurring floods and landslides in the mountains, hills and areas downstream (between the Ghats and the sea) show that India must rethink its environmental law to balance the needs of nature and humans.

The Western Ghats follow India’s western coast.
Nichalp / wiki, CC BY-SA

The mountains are teeming with life. Though they cover only a small part of India’s total land area, the Ghats are home to more than 30% of the country’s species of plants, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals, including both wild elephants and tigers. Its combination of unique species and habitat loss means Unesco has recognised it as one of eight global “hottest hotspots” of biodiversity.

Climate change is already having an obvious impact, with unprecedented rains in monsoon seasons and severe drought and dry rivers in summer. And as the human population has grown, people have chopped down the forests and replaced them with spice, tea, coffee and rubber plantations. Thousands of illegal stone quarries now also operate in the Ghats, where mountainsides are demolished to generate stones and sand for the construction industry. Deforestation and the use of highly destructive explosives mean these areas are prone to increased seismic tremors and landslides.

Large dams on major rivers offer renewable energy yet also raise another set of environmental problems. In Kerala, many are located in eco-sensitive parts of the Western Ghats, with some dating back to British rule. As demand for energy increases, India plans to build more dams which in turn could lead to massive deforestation and ecosystem destruction. All this makes flooding more severe, as deforestation in the catchment area of a river reduces the land’s ability to retain water.

Tea plantation on deforested land near Munnar, Kerala, in the Western Ghats.
Mazur Travel / shutterstock

Whether triggered by damming, deforestation, or exacerbated by climate change, human-induced natural disasters in the region have pointed to a need for stronger environmental protection laws.

How to protect the Western Ghats

India’s 1950 constitution claims that protection of environment is a fundamental duty of every citizen, and though it does not explicitly contain a right to a clean environment, legal authority for environmental lawmaking is derived from the document.

Over the years, the country’s central government has enacted various laws that are applicable to the Western Ghats: the Environment Protection Act 1986, the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2002 and so on. However, these laws are not implemented efficiently, which makes me wonder if areas like the Himalayas and the Western Ghats – internationally significant ecosystems and biosphere reserves – need their own special laws.

The endangered Boulenger’s tree frog is found in the Western Ghats – and nowhere else.
lensalot / shutterstock

Additionally, India’s water laws are inadequate. Existing legislation primarily focuses on pollution control, meaning the law has little to say about preventing or even managing floods which result from mismanagement of dams or too much riverside development.

The problem is enhanced in case of rivers that flow across state boundaries. Some of the major floods in the past couple years happened after dams at or near full capacity in one district or state were opened, letting water flow downstream into another area. Recently, a draft dam safety bill has been proposed to address these problems.

Similarly, discussions over climate change and environmental lawmaking should involve more grassroot level participation. For most people, poverty and earnings still matter more than climate mitigation or adaptation. Hence people’s perception should be moulded to recognise and realise how deforestation or climate change impacts their daily life.

The Western Ghats are south India’s lifeline, with millions dependent on the range either directly or indirectly. These mountains need protection. However, while new development in the region continues to be human-centric, the entire concept of nature preservation is relegated. To protect the Western Ghats, what we require is an attitude that recognises the significance of these mountains, and that will involve specific laws.The Conversation

Gayathri D Naik, Research Scholar, School of Law, SOAS, University of London

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

Cover Photo: Mountains above Munnar, a hill town in Kerala, India. Santhosh Varghese / Shutterstock

Recent Articles



How climate change is driving emigration from Central America

Rising global temperatures, the spread of crop disease and extreme weather events have made coffee harvests unreliable in places like El Salvador. On top of that, market prices are unpredictable.

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.

It’s Time to Break the Deadlock over Africa’s Ivory Trade: Here’s How.

Fierce debates over ivory have dominated the global conference for the international trade in species for 30 years since the first international ivory ban was instituted in 1989.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other