Tourism is considered a leading global sector in employment and international development. It creates 1 in 10 jobs (World Travel & Tourism Council). Many countries significantly depend on the income generated from the tourism industry to stay afloat. One cannot deny that the tourism industry and its global status makes it an economic powerhouse. However, the industry is threatened by climate change.
With its close connections to the environment and climate itself, tourism is considered to be a vulnerable and highly climate-sensitive economic sector. Climate change is happening in destinations that are dependent on tourism, leading to losses of jobs, homes, lives, and hope. Climate change affects a wide range of environmental resources that are critical attractions for tourists, such as wildlife, biodiversity, and water levels and quality.
Tourism is not just a victim of global warming – it also contributes to the problem. Tourism alone is responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. As more and more people travel each year, this footprint is only growing.
When tourists travel, carbon emissions are generated throughout the trips. Flying is the largest source of these emissions. Other activities, such as using the AC in hotels produce CO2 as well. Tourism developments like construction of lodges can also cause CO2 to be released by degrading ecosystems that act as carbon sinks.
If action is not taken to reduce tourism’s carbon footprint and ensure the industry operates more sustainably, the resulting impacts on the environment and human life will be devastating. With the impacts of climate change becoming evident, it is important that local governments, tourism businesses and suppliers, along with individual travelers all take action to reduce the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.
MITIGATING THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
It’s clear then, that the tourism industry needs to make fundamental changes to mitigate the effects of climate change. It needs to reduce the size of its carbon footprint and other actions that contribute to global warming. There are a variety of initiatives that can be undertaken. They include:
The tourism sector through its representation in government and industry organizations can
be involved in policy relevant to climate change. They should be guided by policies that addresses
issues directly and indirectly related to climate change.
- Carbon offsetting
The aviation industry widely used by tourists has long been recognized for its adverse impact on climate change. This has led to airlines seeking ever more radical efficiency savings that reduce emissions. They include weight-saving measures. More low carbon actions should be applied by tourism operators like the use of more efficient passenger vehicles.
- Energy conservation
Energy efficiency is critical to solving the climate change crisis. In most cases, efficiency measures have proven to be the most cost-effective way to address climate change while reducing energy waste, saving money, and expanding the use of renewable energy resources.
- Water conservation
Floods, droughts and heat which are effects of climate change have a direct impact on the availability of the various types of water that humans need. Changing the way we use water in tourism establishments will help to strengthen our planet’s ecosystem and reduce the risk of extreme weather events that make water unpredictable, polluted, and scarce. This could involve using less fresh water for showering, collecting and using rainwater for growing crops or sanitation, or improving our systems for managing waste water.
- Waste management
Tourism’s energy production, product consumption and irresponsible waste management contribute directly to climate change by adding carbon-based particles into the air. Solid waste is a large contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Food waste especially, is contributing to GHG emissions because its degradation creates methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. However, if waste is properly managed it can contribute to a clean environment, reduced GHG emissions, and wealth generation.
Accreditation and certification programs can be developed. They should involve a set of standards established for the tourism industry for mitigation of climate change. Tourism stakeholders will be motivated to participate because accreditation programs can enhance the status and recognition of business.
The future of tourism is at risk. Temperatures continue to rise increasing the risk of natural disasters and putting tourist sites in danger. Frequent forest fires, floods, rising sea levels, food insecurity, drought, coastal erosion, loss of ecosystems all impact the long-term sustainability of the tourism industry. Climate actions needs a dramatic step-up.