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COP25: Growing tourism to severely impact environmental health

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Climate
COP25: Growing tourism to severely impact environmental health
06 Dec
A report presented at COP25 highlights the trouble with tourism, but does the future of holiday travel cast an even darker shadow?

Under the Paris Agreement, nations, corporations and entire industrial sectors are expected to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. But tourism will not comply, or at least not for now. According to a new report presented by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, transport-related CO₂ emissions from tourism are predicted to increase from 1,597 to 1,998 million tonnes between 2016 and 2030. It is a sound 25 per cent increase.

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Tourism is widely expected to keep on growing. International and domestic arrivals are expected to jump from 20 to 37 billion in ten years from now. In 2030, their greenhouse-gas emissions will represent 5.3 per cent of all man-made emissions. As tourism produced 22 per cent of global transport CO₂ in 2016, it will continue doing so by the end of the new decade (21 per cent). Emissions per passenger/kilometre are expected to decline over the coming decade, provided the airline industry will really make progress in achieving low-carbon travel.

What the study doesn’t take into account though, is the psychology of the future average passenger. The movement Flight Shame, which encourages people to give up flying in order to save the planet, is as budding as it is unpredictable. Now, let’s put aside the carbon-free oceanic navigation enjoyed by teenage activist Greta Thunberg aboard expensive solar-powered ships. In the coming future, some people may indeed cut back on flying, especially as the impacts of climate change will become more evident. If Flight Shame were to spread, the growth of tourism could be hampered.

Yet, there is a flip side of the coin. A compelling opinion piece recently published in the New York Times, makes the point. ‘The tourism industry depends on air travel, and increasingly, saving nature is directly linked to tourism’s economic clout,’ writes Costas Christ, founder of Beyond Green Travel, a consultancy. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, one in ten people are employed in the tourism industry, more than ten per cent of the global economy.

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And here is the catch. If people get poorer, their impact on natural environment will worsen rapidly, from the Serengeti to the Maldives. Aviation accounts for approximately 2.5 per cent of man-made emissions. ‘By contrast, deforestation contributes nearly 20 per cent, about as much as all forms of transportation combined,’ argues Christ, a conservationist and sustainable tourism expert. In other words, while damaging to the environment, tourism provides an economic sense to the local preservation of natural resources.

Generally speaking, this kind of dualism – every silver lining has a cloud, and vice versa – applies to nations, corporations and industrial sectors, all facing the urgent need to rein in their contributions to the impending climate crisis. Here is precisely why there should be a price on carbon emissions, call it a tax or not. It would provide an economic reason to decarbonise the world’s wide web of economies, from China to Coca-Cola to the tourism industry.

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