Climate change is shrinking the world's mountain glaciers, whose retreat creates new risks for humans and sensitive ecosystems alike, warns a new report commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church.
"The widespread loss of ice and snow in the world's mountain glaciers is some of the clearest evidence we have for global changes in the climate system," concludes the analysis, which will be delivered to Pope Benedict XVI. It was assembled by an international team of experts at the behest of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Vatican's non-denominational scientific arm.
The report warns of "serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses," urging steep cuts in the world's output of heat-trapping pollutants.
Failure to do so will imperil vulnerable ecosystems and human societies that depend on glaciers for freshwater, it says, including a huge swath of Central Asia where mountain glaciers store water for millions of people. Inaction also leaves some communities vulnerable to flooding from unstable meltwater lakes that can burst without warning, causing outburst floods and mudslides.
"We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us," the document continues.