We are immersed in the celebration of the UN Climate Change Conference – COP25 – where world leaders have come together to ponder on paths to reach the Paris Agreement. The conference couldn´t be timelier, as new data highlight that the climate change threat is worsening rapidly, and that worldwide coordinated action is needed.
The tourism sector, one of the most important global economic activities, is both highly vulnerable to climate change and one of its causes. According to the World Tourism Organization (2016), nearly 40% of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) recognize tourism as either part of mitigation and adaptation strategies or as a sector at risk from climate change.
In terms of tourism vulnerability, models suggest that the main consequences of climate change are a loss of destination attractiveness, threats to natural and cultural assets, and challenges to the sustainability of tourism businesses -including the risk of stranded assets-. Coastal destinations are critically vulnerable to natural disaster risk, due to the increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. After hurricanes hit the Caribbean in 2017, the World Travel and Tourism Council´s models estimated a loss of US$741 million in visitor spending, which potentially could have generated US$292.5 million in GDP and supported 11,005 jobs.
From the perspective of tourism’s contribution to climate change, recent studies estimate that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased four times more than anticipated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The relationship between climate and tourism is multidimensional and complex, with implications on tourists´ decision-making and expenditures, tourism operations and destinations´ environment. Business as usual is not possible any longer, since climate change brings integrated impacts on the productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of the tourism sector. Ignoring climate change will increasingly impose higher costs and will make certain types of tourism unfeasible.
It is urgent to advance with proposals on how to successfully limit the negative effects of climate change while maintaining the strong socioeconomic benefits that come with sustainable tourism. Simultaneous progress on three strategic fronts can help the tourism sector to minimize climate risks and capitalize upon new opportunities:
1. It is important to integrate climate information into tourism decision-making, in combination with other relevant economic, social, environmental data. Knowledge of climate dependence of different tourism sub-sectors and businesses is still relatively unexplored and is inhibiting the development of specific actions to prevent or reduce weather-related revenue losses. Moreover, there is no clarity on the carbon footprint of the diverse tourism products and tourism demand markets. This new integrated approach to tourism information can shed new light on the global benefits and costs of serving specific tourism markets or developing certain types of tourism products and segments.
2.The use of Big Data and Open Data is crucial to accelerate measurements and evidence generation for the transition to a low-emission tourism sector and climate-resilient destinations. While Big Data can contribute to climate change science and yields insights about social, demographic and behavioral dimensions of resilience, Open Data is central to transparency and accountability.
3.Joint leadership from industry and governments is needed to identify best regulations, initiatives and market-based incentives which will allow tourism businesses to improve their carbon efficiency and their active participation in the transition to a low-carbon sector. In this context, tourism operators should get ready for a changing regulatory environment, the progressive incorporation of mandatory reporting requirements, and the prospects of carbon pricing.
This is not a rehearsal, and time is running out. A change of mindset is needed in the tourism sector to effectively maximize its contribution to the global mandate of the Paris Agreement. Proactivity is the answer to successfully address the challenge of climate change in the tourism sector worldwide.
This blogpost is part of the IDB Group’s COP25 Campaign. COP25, under the Presidency of the Government of Chile, will take place from 2 – 13 December 2019 in Madrid, with logistical support from the Spanish government.