afrca glaciers

Glaciers across the globe – including the last ones in Africa – will be unavoidably lost by 2050 due to climate change, the UN says in a report. A third of glaciers located in UN World Heritage sites will melt within three decades, a UNESCO report found. Mount Kilimanjaro’s last glaciers will vanish as will glaciers in the Alps and Yosemite National Park in the US. They will melt regardless of the world’s actions to combat climate change, the authors say.

Other glaciers can be saved only if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions “are drastically cut” and global warming is capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Paris-based UNESCO warned in its report.

About 50 of the organization’s more than 1,150 World Heritage sites have glaciers, which together constitute almost a tenth of the world’s glaciered area.

The almost 19,000 glaciers located at heritage sites are losing more than 60 billion tons of ice a year, which amounts to the annual water consumption of Spain and France combined, and accounts for about 5 percent of global sea-level rise, UNESCO said.

“Glaciers are retreating at an accelerated rate worldwide,” said Tales Carvalho Resende, a hydrology expert with UNESCO.

The organization described a “cycle of warming” in which the melting of glaciers causes the emergence of darker surfaces, which then absorb even more heat and speed up the retreat of ice.

Besides drastic cuts in emissions, the UNESCO report calls for better monitoring of glaciers and the use of early warning mechanisms to respond to natural disasters, including floods caused by bursting glacial lakes. Such floods have already cost thousands of lives and may have partly fueled Pakistan’s catastrophic inundations this year.

While there have been some local attempts to reduce melt rates — for example, by covering the ice with blankets — Carvalho Resende cautioned that scaling up those experiments “might be extremely challenging, because of costs but also because most glaciers are really difficult to access.”

Throughout history, glaciers have grown during very cold periods and shrunk when those stretches ended. The world’s last very cold period ended over 10,000 years ago, and some further natural melting was expected in Europe after the last “Little Ice Age” ended in the 19th century.

But as carbon dioxide emissions surged over the past century, human factors began to quicken what had been expected to be a gradual natural retreat. In Switzerland, glaciers lost a record 6 percent of their volume just this year.

While the additional melting has to some extent balanced out other impacts of climate change — for instance, preventing rivers from drying out despite heat waves — it is rapidly reaching a critical threshold, according to UNESCO.

In its report, the organization writes that the peak in meltwater may already have been passed on many smaller glaciers, where the water is now starting to dwindle.

If the trend continues, the organization warned, “little to no base flow will be available during the dryer periods.”

The changes are expected to have major ramifications for agriculture, biodiversity, and urban life. “Glaciers are crucial sources of life on Earth,” UNESCO wrote.

“They provide water resources to at least half of humanity,” said Carvalho Resende, who cautioned that the cultural losses would also be immense.

Around the world, global warming is exposing ancient artifacts faster than they can be saved by archaeologists.

“Some of these glaciers are sacred places, which are really important for Indigenous peoples and local communities,” he said.

UNESCO cited the example of the centuries-old Snow Star Festival in the Peruvian Andes, which has already been impacted by ice loss. Spiritual leaders once shared blocks of glacier ice with pilgrims, but the practice was stopped when locals noticed the rapid retreat in recent years.

Small glaciers at low or medium altitudes will be the first to disappear. UNESCO said ice-loss rates in small glaciered areas “more than doubled from the early 2000s to the late 2010s.”

This matches observations from researchers who have studied the retreat of glaciers. Matthias Huss, a European glaciologist, said scientists had seen “very strong melting in the last two decades” in Switzerland.

At the same time, there are fewer and fewer places cold enough for glaciers to actually grow. “Nowadays, the limit where glaciers can still form new ice is at about 3,000 meters [about 9,840 feet],” he said, explaining that in recent decades that altitude has risen several hundred meters.

Farming Has To Be Changed Or Risk Destroying The Planet, Warns Big Agriculture

Food companies and governments must come together immediately to change the world’s agricultural practices or risk “destroying the planet”, according to the sponsors of a report by some of the largest food and farming businesses released on Thursday.

The report, from a task force within the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), a network of global CEOs focused on climate issues established by King Charles III, is being released days before the start of the UN’s Cop27 climate summit in Egypt.

Many of the world’s largest food and agricultural businesses have championed sustainable agricultural practices in recent years. Regenerative farming practices, which prioritize cutting greenhouse gas emissions, soil health and water conservation, now cover 15% of croplands.

But the pace of change has been “far too slow”, the report finds, and must triple by 2030 for the world to have any chance of keeping temperature rises under 1.5C, a level that if breached, scientists argue, will unleash even more devastating climate change on the planet.

The report is signed by Bayer, Mars, McCain Foods, McDonald’s, Mondelez, Olam, PepsiCo, Waitrose and others. They represent a potent political and corporate force, impacting the food supply chain around the world. They are also, according to critics, some of those most responsible for climate mismanagement with one calling the report “smoke and mirrors” and unlikely to address the real crisis.

Food production is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases emitted by human activity and a number of the signatories have been accused of environmental misdeeds and “greenwashing”. Activist Greta Thunberg is boycotting Cop this year having called the global summit a PR stunt “for leaders and people in power to get attention.”

“We are at a critical tipping point where something must be done,” said task force chair and outgoing Mars CEO, Grant Reid. “The interconnection between human health and planetary health is more evident than ever before.” Big food companies and agriculture must play a big part in changing that, said Reid. “It won’t be easy but we have got to make it work,” he said.

Agriculture is the world’s largest industry. Pasture and cropland occupy around 50% of the planet’s habitable land and uses about 70% of fresh water supplies. The climate crisis is challenging the industry across the world but the group’s call for change comes as the industry – which employs 1 billion people – is facing supply chain issues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and soaring inflation. It also comes amid mounting skepticism about promises to change from companies that have contributed to climate change.

These current issues must not detract from the need for change, the report argues. “With the inflationary environment and widespread supply chain disruption, it would be easy to reduce our focus on the longer-term challenge of scaling regenerative farming. But we believe it is vital we maintain a sense of urgency. We must take action now to avoid more acute crises in the future,” its authors write.

Sunny George Verghese, chief executive of Olam, one of the world’s largest suppliers of cocoa beans, coffee, cotton and rice, said: “We cannot continue to produce and consume food and feed and fiber in the way we are doing today unless we don’t mind destroying the planet.”

“The only way out for us is how we transition to a more resilient food system that will allow us to meet the needs of a growing population without the resource intensity we have today.”

The report studied three food crops, potatoes, rice and wheat, and has made policy recommendations it will present at Cop27.

The task force’s members are working to make the short-term economic case for change more attractive to farmers. “It is just not compelling enough for the average farmer,” said Reid. More widely the report argues industry and government must also work harder to address the knowledge gap and make sure farmers are following best practices. Thirdly, all parties involved in the agriculture industry from farmers to food producers to government, banks and insurers need to align behind encouraging a shift to more sustainable practices.

“It involves change for all the players including the government, private, public companies and others. No one player can do this on their own, this has to be a collaboration of the willing. What needs to happen now is action and delivery,” said Reid.

Over the next six months, the group will assess how they can spread the task force’s work with the aim of establishing a common set of metrics for measuring environmental outcomes, establishing a credible system of payments for farmers for environmental outcomes, easing the cost of farmers transitioning to sustainable practices, ensuring government policy rewards farmers for greening their business and encouraging the sourcing of crops from particular areas converting to regenerative farming.

Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at GRAIN, a non-profit organization that works to support small farmers, said it was increasingly difficult for big agricultural and food companies to ignore climate change. “But I do not think any of these companies – say a McDonalds – has any commitment to curtail the sales of highly polluting products. I do not think PepsiCo is going to say the world doesn’t need Pepsi.”

Kuyek pointed out that Yara, another signatory to the report, is the world’s largest supplier of nitrogen-based fertilizers, “which are responsible for one out of every 40 tonnes of greenhouse gas emitted annually.”

“It is pretty disingenuous,” said Kuyek. “Small, local food systems still feed most of the people on the planet and the real threat is that the industrial system is expanding at the expense of the truly sustainable system. Corporations are creating a bit of smoke and mirrors here, suggesting they are part of the solution when inevitably they are part of the problem.”

Considering the controversial histories of some of the companies involved in the report, Verghese said he expected criticism and scrutiny. “All companies have to stand up to the scrutiny of being attacked if there is real greenwashing. There is no place to hide,” he said. “As far as Olam is concerned we are very clear on our targets, we have had the confidence to make these targets public. All of us have progressed along the sustainable journey. It is not that we have not made mistakes in the past but as we have become better at this we are willing to be subject to scrutiny.”

Both Reid and Verghese said the scale of the issues the world’s food supply is facing cannot be underplayed but that more governments and companies were becoming convinced of the need for urgent change. “I believe change can be made,” said Verghese. “I am optimistic. The fact that these kinds of coalitions are emerging is very positive. We are all otherwise very strong rivals and competitors. We hate each other’s guts, we do not come together on anything unless there is a huge crisis. Everyone is recognizing there is a huge crisis. We need to come together.”


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