Clarity and imagination required to reduce the tourism sector’s dependency on fossil fuels

Clarity and imagination required to reduce the tourism sector’s dependency on fossil fuels

The Sackur panel interview last week at World Travel Market faced up to the challenge confronting us as a species. Derek Hanekon, the South African Minister of Tourism, argued that the survival of us as species is at stake and that there was necessary pain and discomfort to be accepted if we are to transition to a low carbon future. Taleb Rifai rightly argues that travel and tourism has brought decent lives and working conditions to many in the developing world; that there are three pillars of sustainability and that we cannot ignore the economic and social; that climate change is an issue with no borders. Taleb Rifai argued that growth is essential to create the resources to enable the industry to invest to become more efficient in sharp contrast to Kevin Anderson’s argument that growth needs to be curtailed as we cannot become sufficiently carbon efficient in the short term to permit continued growth, the carbon we emit now will be in the atmosphere for decades, the 2 degrees target requires more radical action now.

There was something of a consensus amongst the panellists that the sector is not doing enough to improve carbon efficiency and that we need to do a great deal more. Richard Mills of Boeing and Brigitta Witt of Hyatt spoke about what their companies are doing to increase carbon efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and much is being done. But as Kevin Anderson the climate change scientist on the panel pointed out the Jevons paradox bedevils progress – the gains from technological efficiency are swallowed up as the cost savings result in increased consumption. The Dreamliner is far more carbon and cost efficient, but it can fly further more cheaply.

Travel and tourism have brought major benefits to us over the last 150 years, tourism became a business in the age of steam reliant on coal; oil and air travel have since the Second World War made tourism a globally significant industry. However, in our finite world we have with clarity and imagination to transform our industry. Taleb rightly argued on the Sackur panel that travel and tourism is responsible for about 5% of global emissions – in the same ball park as India or the Russian Federation.

The IMF is reporting that fossil fuel companies benefit from global subsidies of  $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day. There is a new Carbon Pricing Leadership group comprised of national, local and corporate leaders calling for carbon pricing to be used to drive change by reducing emissions and encouraging investment in clean energy. The President of the World Bank, the Managing Director of the IMF and the Secretary General of the OECD “aim to seize the momentum generated by the Paris talks to spur further, faster action towards carbon pricing, as a necessary path to a low carbon, productive, competitive economy of the future.” more

Change may be coming faster – it needs to.

Kevin Anderson’s presentation and the Sackur panel interview is available here

Carbon Resource Efficiency good practice here

Carbon Debate – is the travel and tourism industry doing enough to address climate change? here

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracts 2000 participants each year and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Ireland. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

One comment

  1. John Williams (@eurapart) says:

    May I offer my thanks to you for putting together such a quality debate.
    Taleb Rifai did argue for continued growth, he failed to answer how it can be delivered while reducing emissions sufficiently by 2050 to keep global rise below 2 degrees Celsius. He rightly pointed out that sustainability includes economic and sociaI pillars. Only in ‘weak sustainability’ can ‘human capital’ substitute ‘natural capital’.
    In my view unless we look after our planetary life support systems there will be no ‘human capital’ to create economic growth.
    Was it only me that saw the irony in Taleb agreed with Kevin that the $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year subsidy to fossil fuels in the IMF Report includes the damage caused to health, and the environment in floods, lost crops etc caused in part by the tourism industry.
    To quote the IMF: “Energy subsidies are projected at US$5.3 trillion in 2015, or 6.5 percent of global GDP, according to a recent IMF study. Most of this arises from countries setting energy taxes below levels that fully reflect the environmental damage associated with energy consumption.”
    So although everyone seem buoyed up thinking that the simple answer was to stop subsidising fossil fuels and all of the industry’s problems will be solved, it is not that easy as the industry doesn’t pay its share of the environmental damage caused.
    A further point is that the industry claims to employ 8.9% of the world’s population by including jobs indirectly supported by tourism. However, when it publishes the industry’s figures for global emissions of about 5% this is only for the 3.7% directly employed in the industry. The emissions of the 8.9% is far greater than 5%.

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