Few industries are as complexly intertwined with the causes and effects of climate change as tourism. Tourism is a resource-intensive industry, and its components, including transportation and hospitality, contribute to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which are driving climate change.
In turn, the effects of climate change play a key role in the economic struggles faced by many popular travel destinations. However, there are a number of tactics that countries, regions, and municipalities can incorporate into their Climate Action Plans to strategize for the long term and help make local tourism more sustainable.
How does tourism contribute to the factors that influence climate change?
- Recent studies have found that tourism’s global carbon footprint accounts for about 8% of global GHG emissions, up from around 5% a decade ago.
- In smaller countries whose economies are more reliant on the industry, especially island nations, tourism is responsible for up to 80% of national GHG emissions.
- Estimates suggest that GHG emissions from air travel account for between 2-5% of the global total.
- In high-income countries transportation is generally one of the most GHG-intensive sectors - in the US it is the joint leader alongside electricity.
- Hospitality also contributes to the carbon footprint of tourism, directly through electricity use and heating, and indirectly through demand for food and single-use goods.
How does climate change affect tourism?
- Disaster impacts - Many popular travel destinations have already felt the effects of severe weather events such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires, which are increasing in frequency as the climate changes.
- Long-term impacts - Climate change also impacts tourism in less extreme but still significant ways. For instance, rising temperatures in mountain regions have led to unreliable weather and insufficient snowfall for winter sport resorts, and rising sea levels have begun to encroach on the landmass of smaller island destinations.
- Economic impacts - Damage and drastic changes to travel destinations can cause tourism rates to inevitably drop. These losses and the resulting economic instability in turn discourage investment in recovery efforts.
How can Climate Action Plans help?
Through Climate Action Plans, communities around the world are taking action to address climate issues, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and deliver wider social, environmental, and economic benefits. There are a number of strategies that a municipality or state might incorporate into its plan to address both the challenges of climate change and tourism. Sustainable transport strategies, such as bicycle rental schemes in tourist-dense areas, help reduce emissions from travel. Mandating locally-operating airlines to provide travelers with the option to invest in carbon-negative initiatives can offset the CO2 produced by air travel. Carbon taxes and fees can encourage the most carbon intensive companies in the tourist industry to develop more sustainable practices.
Today, travel is easier and more affordable than ever, giving many the freedom to visit places thousands of miles away and closing the distance between families and friends separated by oceans or continents. The impacts of climate change, however, threaten to unseat the travel industry in many communities, and sustainability is increasingly becoming a key competitive advantage. For long-term success and the growth of the industry, tourism organizations will need to look to sustainable solutions to manage resources, invest wisely, and work with local communities for a sustainable future.
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