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Reducing tourism-related emissions key to check climate change impacts on tourism

As representatives of governments work to develop an international policy to tackle climate change at the ongoing UN climate talks in Madrid, there’s an effort to identify sectors and actions that help meet the goal. Tourism figures prominently in this list. For experts, tourism’s contribution to climate change presents a conundrum.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 07, 2019, 08.55 AM IST
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Venice experienced its worst ever floods since 1966 this year.
Venice, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, experienced its worst ever floods since 1966 this year with water rising as high as six metres in its streets and piazzas. Floods have become something of a regular feature in this medieval ‘city of canals’ in recent years as global warming has led to rising sea levels.

This is impacting tourism, the mainstay of modern-day Venice. At the same time, studies show that tourism is one of the big contributors to the warming of the planet.

As representatives of governments work to develop an international policy to tackle climate change at the ongoing UN climate talks in Madrid, there’s an effort to identify sectors and actions that help meet the goal. Tourism figures prominently in this list.

For experts, tourism’s contribution to climate change presents a conundrum. It is a key sector employing millions and significantly adding to local and national economies, but it also has significant carbon footprint.

In 2018, tourism accounted for nearly 10.4% of the global gross domestic product at roughly $9 trillion. It was also responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge clearly is to find a way that preserves the benefits of tourism while reducing its contribution to global warming.

Tourism has benefits beyond the economy. “Thanks to this sector, millions of people have been able to explore new destinations, reunite with family and friends, and fulfil dreams of exploring the world,” said Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate boss.

For many countries, particularly in the developing world, tourism has been the pathway out of poverty for millions of people, she said.

“It is truly a global economic powerhouse... With this sort of success, why should you change what you have been doing?” Espinosa said. “Frankly because you have no choice. None of us does.”

GREEN TRANSPORT
One area where tourism industry must focus to reduce its carbon footprint and become sustainable is transport. Transport — by air, car and other modes — contributed 75% of the sector’ greenhouse gas emission, a report by UN World Tourism Organisation and International Transport Forum said.

Emissions from transporting tourists reached almost 1,600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2016, which was roughly 5% of all energy related emissions.

International tourism has been growing 3.3% a year since 2010 and it is projected that 1.8 billion tourists will make international trips annually by 2030. In Asia, domestic tourism is expected to grow from 420 million in 2016 to 1.2 billion in 2030.

Estimates show that in 2005, tourist trip by cars accounted for 259 million tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with 185 mt from air travel and 34 mt from other solutions such as rail and bus. Without any intervention, the levels are projected to increase to 627 million tonnes from cars, 376 mt from aviation, and 99 mt from rail and bus.

Studies show that domestic tourism is expected to grow exponentially, making it critical source for employment and important contributor to the economy.

At the same time, failure to curb tourism-related emissions would make it difficult to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

Experts suggest efficiency measures and share of electric mobility — particularly rail networks — as an important first step towards reducing tourism-related emissions. Improved rail networks and electrification could help reduce dependence on cars without increasing the share of aviation, particularly in domestic and interregional tourism, they said.

Carlos Gentile, chairman of United Nations Environment Programme’s One Planet Network, stressed on the need to bring together issues of resource efficiency and climate change to reduce tourism sector’s contribution to global warming.

Drawing on examples from his home country Argentina, Gentile highlighted how climate change manifesting as weather variability was impacting tourism.

Many countries have listed tourism as one of the action areas in their nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement.

However, “not enough has yet been done”, said Ovais Sarmad, deputy executive secretary of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). “Industry must do more, but governments must align their policies so that at the international level we can collectively work to increase ambition,” he said. “The One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme is a vital ongoing mechanism to promote sustainable tourism around the world.”

Not acting decisively on reducing tourism’s emissions could mean risking all of the jobs and travel options which will likely disappear under the weight of fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, and relentless heatwaves, experts said.

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