Kilimanjaro’s glaciers, the summit of climate challenges

By Damien Glez

Posted on Tuesday, 8 November 2022 14:44

Although Africa’s COP in Sharm el-Sheikh has just begun, a United Nations report has predicted that the continent’s last remaining glaciers will be gone by 2050.

“The snows of Kilimanjaro will give you a white coat to sleep in,” went the syrupy lyrics to a tune from the 1960’s French yéyé years, by a singer who had probably never set foot on the mountain – home to three volcanoes in north-eastern Tanzania.

Fantasising about the world’s beautiful sites is good. Preserving them is even better. Because the “white coat” from Pascal Danel’s song could be a distant memory in less than three decades…

Based on satellite data, a recent UNESCO report predicts that the glaciers in one-third of the UN’s World Heritage sites will have melted by 2050, regardless of whatever  measures are taken to combat climate change. This global heritage covers almost 10% of the Earth’s glacial surface, about 18,600 glaciers at 50 important tourist sites, including sacred places.

Among the masses of ice that are set to disappear at an unprecedented rate due to human activity are the glaciers of the French Alps and Yosemite National Park in the US, as well as those in African national parks: Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Natural Forest of Mount Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda and Kilimanjaro…

Preservation is precisely what is at stake at the COP27 climate change conference that has just opened in Egypt. It is clearly a question of moving from the incantations of previous COPs to concrete action. Africa, which is hosting the meeting, intends to demand effective funding from those who suggest that the continent should give up a large part of its industrialisation and therefore hypothetical greenhouse gas emissions likely to accelerate global warming. Emissions for which the continent is hardly responsible.

Romantic singers are not the only ones who will miss the glaciers. As UNESCO points out, the annual melting of 58 billion tonnes of ice will cause flooding, and local populations will be the first victims. In addition, during the dry seasons in some parts of the world, the disappearance of certain glaciers will lead to a shortage of fresh water and thus to problems of food security.

To counteract the avoidable effects of this clearly unavoidable loss, warning and disaster risk reduction systems must be optimised. Above all, global warming must be kept to 1.5°C if the remaining glaciers in the other two-thirds of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites are to be saved. A goal that is by no means guaranteed by the measures currently in place.

Will the decision-makers be able to scale the summit of this climate challenge?

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