The UN is Too Important for the Travel Industry The most severe climate change warning yet

From droughts to floods and fires, the unprecedented size and frequency of natural disasters the world has experienced will continue, each more cataclysmic than the last. They will also affect entire industries, including winter tourism. There is still plenty of time for us to avoid worsening the situation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a deep and sustainable manner until 2030.

That’s essentially the message of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its sixth assessment report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, released on Monday. The report, which relies on some of the most sophisticated climate science available, confirms that humans are responsible for warming the atmosphere and oceans.

“Based on the data that is now available, it behooves every political figure and every decision maker, be it in a company, be it in city government or national government, to look at their climate actions, to look at their emissions reductions, to assess how they can be a contributor, and to ensure that business as usual does not become the continuation,” said Inger Anderson, under secretary general of the United Nations and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, at the IPCC virtual press conference.

Although the 4,000-page tome does not mention the tourism industry, it is clear that all inhabited regions of the globe will experience more changes, including faster sea levels rising, severe heatwaves and complicated monsoon patterns, which will have a significant impact on health, infrastructure and agriculture. 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’etre? Irreversible damage to natural resource, communities, cultural sites, wildlife, and protected areas.

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Yet, the global tourism sector has not taken responsibility for the climate crisis since the pre-pandemic.

Greenhouse gas emissions from tourism remain largely unmeasured and unreported at a destination level, nor are there global reporting standards for it, as confirmed by recent Skift research.

According to the 2019 UNWTO report, global tourism accounted for approximately 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. This is higher than construction, and transport-related emissions from international tourism alone are expected to increase 25 percent by 2030.

It was then advised that the tourism industry “must determine its own high ambition scenario, other than transport; a scenario in which tourism could transform into low-emission and highly efficient operations.”

“I think what’s actually quite shameful is the Paris Agreement was six years ago; carbon emissions have risen every year since and there’s record levels now and there’s still very little difference in action across tourism at all,” said Alex Narracott, co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, a volunteer organization born in 2020, pre-Covid, aiming to unify the industry in addressing climate action.

Since then, nearly 300 people have signed up across every sector of tourism including Visit Scotland and Visit Valencia as well as the Adventure Travel Trade Association, ATA, Red Rocks Rwanda, Red Rocks Rwanda, and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

Narracott stated that it is shameful that industry continues to discuss the absence of standards and reporting requirements. The report serves only as a wake-up call. It may increase the chances of taking action, which is what I hope it does.

Is Tourism a Savings Opportunity?

Can the industry of tourism afford to ignore the IPCC’s report and keep its complacency? It’s still possible to limit global warming. Will the tourism industry overcome its shame about climate change and rise up to meet the challenge of getting on the road to net zero by 2030?

Narracott stated that there was a shortage of information about the things we could do and that it is almost like we are burying our heads because tourism relies on flying. Tourism Declares was established to help break down this barrier and start the dialogue.

For Marco Lucero, co-founder of the organization’s South America chapter, Turismo Declara Estado de Emergencia Climatica, it’s about sharing that knowledge and collaborating.

“Information is concentrated in certain elements of the tourist system. I believe we should spread the information and build more relationships and communities. Tourism Declares was extremely successful.”

In July, the UNWTO launched a Global Survey of Climate Action in Tourism, in collaboration with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, ATTA and Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, with specific versions for destinations, accommodations, tour operators, transportation providers, and associations.

This is a unique effort to assess the current state of climate action in the sector to identify the areas where there are gaps and the support needed to move forward. It also identifies the most effective practices.

Narracott stated that it is difficult to bring together a diverse industry like tourism around one common goal. However, there has been more momentum in the past 18 months, with commitments at all levels.

It is certainly happening. However, it’s not as widely reported as it should be.

It’s not just another pledge

The survey results will be used by Tourism Declares to shape a series of blueprints for tour operators, hotels, and destinations, which will be public and available as a free resource in time for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this Fall.

Narracott stated that the Glasgow Declaration will also be published by the group. This is not a pledge but an obligation each signatory will make publicly in order to conform to the Paris Agreement, to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 and to file a climate action plan within one year.

Narracot stated that many household names from the travel industry would sign on to the agreement, which will be announced this fall.

It is clear, for now, that global tourism cannot afford to slow down on climate change action. According to the IPCC, a seven percent decrease in global emissions was achieved by the world halting its travels during a pandemic.

This small amount demonstrates the severity of the climate crisis. It is why, as tourism continues to be hit by a pandemic that has ravaged its recovery, the industry must simultaneously address climate change.

Net zero is the goal to reach net zero by 2030. This will ensure that we don’t see higher 2degC global temperatures starting in the middle of the century, as per the IPCC. The stakeholders from all segments must prioritise measuring, reducing and reporting, and setting science-based goals. To find the best climate solution for their destinations and natural environments, they must collaborate across continents and borders.

We are witnessing a moment of change

The momentum for change in the industry is here, even if it’s arrived late, and it’s also unavoidable: governments and tourism businesses will increasingly be held accountable for emissions and climate change actions.

Although the IPCC placed the burden of responsibility mainly on G-20 countries meeting in Fall, in many regions around the globe, the private sector tourism has a significant influence on shaping industry and government policies. It is also able to make a faster bridge to help create and implement climate solutions.

It is a good thing that marketing has shifted to sustainable and regenerative tourism. It cannot be mistaken for addressing the climate crisis. All efforts to manage sustainable tourism will be thrown out the window if it gets worse.

It is essential that all voices are included in crafting solutions to climate change for the tourism sector. This is because Indigenous peoples, women, and people of colour, have been most severely affected by climate change.

Lucero stated that South America has a large movement of businesses taking climate action. This is especially true for the hospitality industry. However, these voices have not been included in “the mainstream” of South America’s business community.

These dire scenarios, which are now scientific facts and not just speculations in the sixth IPCC assessment report, should be a wake-up call for the entire travel industry to consider how they can decarbonize their sectors and to commit to do so consistently and aggressively by 2030.

In the meantime, the climate catastrophes keep unfolding and impact travel’s opening in the middle of Covid. Heatwaves grip the Pacific Northwest, wildfires in Greece, Turkey, and Chile have all returned to making snow despite another year of drought.

As is the next epidemic, so is the next climate catastrophe. Tourism has only nine years to protect its future, but that is what’s certain.

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Publiated at Thu, 12 August 2021, 15:20:00 +0000

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