The world will continue to experience unprecedented numbers and severity of natural disasters, from droughts to floods to fires. Each one is more devastating than the previous. They will impact both the travel industry and entire sectors like winter tourism. There is still time to avoid worse outcomes by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a deep and sustainable manner until 2030.
This is the message that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has sent in its sixth assessment report Climate Change 2021:The Physical Science Basis. It was released Monday. The report, which relies on the most up-to-date climate science, confirms that humans are responsible for warming the atmosphere, oceans, and land.
According to the available data, every politician and decision maker in any country, city or national, should examine their climate actions and their emission reductions. This will help to determine how they can contribute and ensure that there is no continuation of business as usual, stated Inger Anderson, Under Secretary General of the United Nations and executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme at the IPCC virtual conference.
Although the 4,000-page tome does not mention the tourism industry, it does confirm that all inhabited regions of the globe will experience more changes, including faster sea levels rising, severe heatwaves and complex monsoon patterns, which will have a significant impact on health, agriculture and infrastructure. These are all essential for tourism operations.
Tourism is perhaps the most well-positioned industry in terms of witnessing and suffering from the wide-reaching effects of climate change. The greatest threat to tourism's raison d'être: irreversible damage and destruction to natural resources, communities and cultural sights.
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Yet, the global tourism industry has not been able to face the climate crisis since the pandemic.
Recent Skift research has confirmed that tourism's greenhouse gas emissions are not being measured and reported at destination level.
According to a 2019 UNWTO report, global tourism accounted for approximately eight percent of global greenhouse gases emissions. This is higher than construction, and transport-related emissions from international tourism alone are expected to grow 25 percent by 2030.
It was then advised that the tourism industry must determine its own high ambition scenario, other than transport. This scenario would see tourism transform into low-emission and highly efficient operations.
It is quite shocking that the Paris Agreement was made six years ago. Carbon emissions have risen each year since then and there are record levels now. However, there has been very little change in tourism's response to climate change, stated Alex Narracott. He co-founded Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency in 2020. This volunteer organization, which was founded in 2020 pre-Covid, aims to unify the sector in addressing climate change.
Since then, nearly 300 signatories have joined in all tourism sectors, including Visit Scotland, Visit Valencia and Red Rocks Rwanda.
Narracott stated that it is shameful that the industry continues to have conversations about the absence of standards, reporting requirements, and regulatory requirements. The report serves only as a wake-up call. It may increase the likelihood that action is taken.
Can Tourism Save Itself
Can the tourism industry continue to ignore the IPCC report and push it aside? It is not too late for the industry to stop further global warming. Will it rise up to the challenge of getting on the path towards net zero by 2030 and save itself from its climate shame?
Narracott stated that there is a lack in knowledge about what can be done and that it is almost like we are burying our heads under the sand. Tourism Declares was established to help break down this barrier and start the dialogue.
Marco Lucero is the co-founder of Turismo Declara Estado de Emergencia Climatica's South America chapter. It's about sharing knowledge and collaborating.
Information is concentrated in certain elements of the tourism system. I believe we need to spread that information, build more relationships and create more communities. Tourism Declares has been very positive.
The UNWTO launched a Global Survey of Climate Action in Tourism in July in collaboration with ATTA and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It includes specific versions for different destinations, accommodation providers, transport providers, associations, and tour operators.
This is a first-time attempt to map climate action across the sector to determine where there are gaps and what support the industry requires going forward. It also identifies the best practices.
Narracott stated that it is difficult to bring together a diverse and fragmented industry like tourism around a common goal, but that there has been more momentum in the last 18 months in terms of commitments at all levels of tourism.
While it is certainly happening, it is not as well-publicized as it should be.
Not just another pledge
Tourism Declares will use the survey results to create a series blueprints for hotels and tour operators. These blueprints will be made public and will be available for free in time for this fall's United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).
Narracott stated that the group plans to publish the Glasgow Declaration by then. It will not be a pledge but a public commitment by each signatory to adhere to the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 and to file a climate action plan within one year.
Narracot confirmed that many household names from the travel industry would sign, which will be revealed in the Fall.
It is clear that global tourism cannot afford to slow down on climate action. This is even in the face of a crisis. According to the IPCC report, a mere 7 percent reduction in emissions was achieved by the world stopping its travels during a pandemic year.
This small amount demonstrates the severity of the climate crisis. It is why, as tourism recovers from the pandemic, climate action must be given to all sectors simultaneously.
Net zero by 2030 is a must if we are to avoid higher 2C global warming. This is according to the IPCC. The stakeholders in the travel industry across all sectors should prioritize measuring, reporting, and setting science-based goals. To find the best climate solution for their destination and their natural environment, they must collaborate across continents and borders.
We are witnessing a moment of change
Even though it is late to the party, there is momentum for change within the industry. It is also inevitable that governments and tourism companies will be held more accountable for climate change and emissions.
Although the IPCC placed the burden of responsibility primarily on G-20 countries meeting this Fall, in many regions of the globe, the private sector of tourism has a significant influence on shaping government and industry policies. This allows them to build bridges faster to solve climate problems.
It is a good thing that marketing has shifted to sustainable and regenerative tourism. It cannot be confused with the need to address climate change. All efforts to manage sustainable tourism will be thrown out the window if the environment crisis worsens.
It is essential that all voices are included in crafting climate solutions for tourism. Indigenous peoples, women, and people of color are the ones most affected by the climate crisis.
Lucero stated that there is a lot of South American companies taking climate action, especially in the hospitality sector. However, these voices have not been heard or included in mainstream discussions up until now.
These dire scenarios, which are outlined in the sixth IPCC assessment report, are not only scientifically proven but also unambiguous. They should be used to push the entire travel industry to identify how it can decarbonize across its sectors and to commit to doing so consistently and aggressively by 2030.
In the meantime, climate catastrophes continue to unfold. Travels are reopening amid Covid heatwaves. Fires in Greece, Turkey, and Chile are sending residents and tourists fleeing. Ski companies in Chile are now back manufacturing snow amid yet another year of drought.
As is the next climate catastrophe, so is the next pandemic. Tourism has nine years to protect its future, but that is not yet certain.
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