Tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the warming of our planet. Although the tourism sector has provided millions with employment and contributes to national and local economies, it has a significantly high carbon footprint. In 2018, emissions from the tourism industry accounted for nearly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Experts have predicted that the tourism industry can help in preventing climate change emissions from the tourism industry will increase by 4% every year. These emissions come primarily from tourists’ energy consumption at hotels and other places of stay, the transport they use, and the type of food they consume. The aviation industry accounts for 40% of tourism’s emissions, vehicle/car transport for 32%, and accommodation for 21%.
Tourism is closely connected to the environment and the climate itself. These close links make the industry highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But at the same time, the sector continues emitting greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming. Therefore, accelerating climate action in the tourism sector is highly essential to make the sector resilient. Climate action refers to the efforts taken to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also refers to strengthening our adaptive capacity to impacts induced by climate change.
Experts have estimated that emissions from tourism will increase by 25% by 2030 from 2016 levels. The estimation increases the urgency to scale up climate action in tourism. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that emissions from tourism would double in the next 25 years unless governments develop sustainable tourism policies. In this article, we’re going to explore the ways the tourism industry can help in preventing climate change.
How Can The Industry Reduce Emissions?
Countries must strongly incentivize the tourism industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly adopt environmentally-friendly policies. These actions play vital roles in increasing the industry’s contributions toward combating climate change.
Governments around the world need to develop policies that reflect tourism’s place in their respective economies. Each country might need to develop different measures according to the structure of their economies and how significant a role tourism plays in it.
Industry initiatives, governmental policies, and green technologies can push tourism toward a low-carbon, resource-efficient path. This path can help the industry reduce greenhouse emissions, energy use, and water consumption, among other things.
The tourism industry has enormous potential to contribute to sustainable development. Sustainable tourism practices can help alleviate poverty, empower women, and create jobs. If we cannot integrate environmentally friendly actions into tourism, we will witness the damage to ecosystems and the collapse of local communities.
We must ask that governments and the tourism industry work together to engage local communities. The partnership can develop a form of tourism that is sustainable, pro-poor, and community-oriented. But first, tourists and tourism managers need to realize the impacts of their actions on the climate and how climate change will, in return, impact tourism.
One area where the industry can significantly reduce its emissions is transport. Transport accounts for about 75% of the tourism sector’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In 2016, the transportation of tourists released 1,600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Increasing energy efficiency and expanding public and less carbon-intensive transport networks such as railways can significantly reduce emissions. These networks’ expansion and increased efficiency will reduce tourists’ dependence on cars, especially in domestic and interregional tourism. It is a crucial first step toward lowering tourism-related carbon emissions.
The industry can also increase its offers of sustainable tourism methods such as ecotourism to tourists. A report by the UN said that ecotourism could help save endangered forests and wildlife. Ecotourism is tourism in natural, often threatened, environments that support conservation efforts.
The Great Apes Survival Partnership is an excellent example of how ecotourism helped endangered wildlife. The program involved local communities in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in tourism activities. The result was an increase in the endangered gorilla population in the region. This type of tourism leads to reduced emissions since tourists stay within and learn from local communities. It also increases the benefits to local communities since they directly earn from tourist activities.
The Glasgow Declaration
In November 2021, the UN Climate Change Conference launched the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism. The UN hopes that this initiative will act as a catalyst to increase the urgency about the need to accelerate climate action in tourism. It also hopes that the declaration will promote strong commitments to climate goals from the tourism industry.
The signatories of the Glasgow Declaration have committed to cutting global emissions from tourism by at least a half over the next decade. They also plan on reaching net-zero emissions before 2050. The signatories have agreed to align their actions with five pathways defined in the Declaration:
Signatories to the Glasgow Declaration passed the 500 mark just four months after the UN launched the initiative.
How Can Tourists Help in Reducing the Industry’s Emissions?
Even you, as a tourist, can help in reducing the industry’s carbon emissions and environmental impact. Small steps can go a long way in mitigating climate change impacts and making the industry resilient to those impacts. The next time you’re planning your next holiday within your country or internationally, remember the following points.
1. Deciding where to go
Always remember, the lesser distance you travel away from home, the lower your carbon footprint and emissions will be. Consider exploring lesser-known parts of your own home country.
2. Use public transport
Of course, you can’t help but take a flight when you’re traveling internationally. But when you travel within your country, use public transport to travel to all those sight-seeing places. As we learned early in this article, transport accounts for the largest share of tourism’s greenhouse gas emissions. By using public transport, you can significantly cut down on these emissions and help combat climate change.
3. Visit places that need support
Tour parts of the world whose environments and wildlife are under threat and whose communities are attempting to protect them. By visiting those places, you’ll be pouring your money into conservation efforts that will protect the environment and wildlife. You will also help support local communities.
4. Stay in guest-houses rather than chain hotels
Big chain hotels have an enormous carbon and ecological footprint. They have very high water and energy consumption. Additionally, the lifestyle they provide you with leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the hotel owners are the ones who benefit the most and the workers the least. Instead, opt for small guesthouses, homestays, or stays provided by local communities. This way, you know that the money you spend on accommodation is directly benefiting the people who need it the most. Staying in places like these has a very low environmental impact.
Consume food that is local to the place you’re visiting. Also, try to reduce your consumption of meat and dairy products. Meat and dairy products have the highest carbon footprint among food. Eat organic, local, and fresh produce.
While all these steps make you a sustainable traveler, it also sends a message to the tourism industry that people want them to reduce their emissions. When you increase the demand for sustainable tourism options, tourism managers will take notice of that demand. It will help them realize the urgent need to reduce the emissions from their activities.
Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.