Can the tourism industry de-carbonize?

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Global travel and tourism account for 5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. @bberwyn photo.

Study says modest carbon tax could offset travel industry climate impacts

Staff Report

Offsetting the climate change impacts of tourism and travel won’t be easy — but it might not be as expensive as you think.

According to a new study by the University of Waterloo, the damaging effects of carbon dioxide emissions associated with tourism could be eliminated if travelers paid just $11 per trip, on average.The research, published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, explains that fossil fuel energy used by the travel sector causes more greenhouse gas emissions than  all but five countries of the world — by the most recent estimates, tourism, including transport, accommodation, and leisure activities contributed close to five per cent of total human-made emissions of CO2 world-wide.

“A dangerously warming world is not in the best interest of global tourism. Many of peoples’ favorite tourism destinations and activities are at risk to climate change, from the ski industry to tropical beaches, from iconic species to cultural heritage,” said University of Waterloo Professor Daniel Scott. We have to ask ourselves, are we willing to pay less than the price of an extra checked bag to ensure future generations can marvel at the sights that inspire us today?” Scott said.

The most most effective strategy for the tourism industry to meet the United Nations carbon reduction goals, includes a combination of strategic energy saving and renewable energy initiatives within the industry and buying carbon offsets from other parts of the global economy where emission reductions can be done at less cost.

“The tourism sector has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions 50 percent by 2035. Our study demonstrates this is achievable, but will require determined action and significant investment … starting at just under US$1 billion annually 2020s,” Scott said. “Divided equally among all domestic and international trips that’s about a US$11 cost per trip – basically the same price as many modest travel fees and taxes.”

Decarbonizing global tourism represents a long-term investment, but given its tremendous growth, the relative cost is less than 0.1 per cent of the estimated global tourism economy in 2020 and increases to 3.6 per cent in 2050.

Spending by tourists represents the largest voluntary transfer of wealth in the world. This spending is vital to the economies of many countries and creates up to one in 11 jobs worldwide.

“Tourism is how billions of people explore new places and experience new cultures and the natural wonders of this world every year,” Scott said. “Tourism can be a force for immense good, but it needs to be done within the carbon limits being negotiated by world leaders at the UN climate summit in Paris or else it will be regulated to do so.”

The study, co-authored by researchers from Lund University, the University of Canterbury and NHTV Breda University, also looks at the risks of not taking action on climate change.

As global leaders gather in Paris seeking a much-anticipated agreement to keep global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, nations face increasing pressure to reduce emissions and contribute to decarbonizing the global economy.

“It is not peak oil that is a risk to future tourism development, but peak carbon,” said Scott. “Our analysis shows that the tourism sector can be compatible with a decarbonized global economy, if governments and business leaders show collective leadership to make it happen.”

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