By Gustavo Pinto
M.A. in Responsible Tourism – Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
Advisor in Responsible Tourism for WTM Latin America
Director of Inverted America Journeys
The travel and tourism sector shares some common issues on sustainable development in Latin America, but differs from problems that other continents are now facing. Issues such as the eradication of poverty and social inequality, economic imbalance vis-a-vis countries in the Northern hemisphere, monetary and financial instability, deforestation, sanitation and the pollution of our rivers, lakes and seas are among the topics that all of us, from Baja California in Mexico to the Patagonian region of Chile and Argentina unite us and affect our activities as professionals and destinations.
In terms of environmental conservation and protection, there is only one global topic, and that is climate change. It’s a difficult subject to face up to – and no great practical solutions have so far been developed globally. What we do know, however, is that until someone comes up with this great solution, every industry must organize itself and mobilize to change what is under its control; and our industry has a lot to do.
We are responsible for 1 in every 5 jobs in the world and just over 10% of world’s GDP. We have a lot of strength. But at least 11% of all carbon dioxide emissions are also concentrated in our commercial activities – activities that are dear to the very economic and financial sustainability of tourism, such as transport and accommodation.
We have emitted more CO2 in the last 30 years than in the previous 800,000. Emission rates today are 60% higher than they were 25 years ago. More than 200 billion tons of carbon have been emitted since 2007 – and again, we are responsible for 11% of this total.
Today the global target is not to allow the world’s temperature to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius “from pre-industrial levels”. This limit is crucial, especially for regions close to the tropics – and guess who is in this region? We Latin Americans are!
We cannot afford to see destinations we love and on which we depend disappear, like our vast coastlines with their stunningly beautiful beaches. Other areas may suffer from drought or the effects of fire and high temperatures.
Measuring our carbon footprint and acting to reduce it, therefore, must be part of our work. This is not a job for individuals; everyone has to take part (and hold others accountable!) to ensure a sustainable supply chain – from the supplier of basic inputs to the traveller. We have to be even more alert with regard to the latter: tourists are already aware that their carbon footprint directly affects the destinations they visit, and they are already choosing those airlines, hotels and inbound tourism facilities, etc. that prove they are being responsible for the environmental impact they cause. Over and above climate issues, we will soon have a clear demand issue that we need to be ready to respond to.
The final question is: are we willing to lose the destinations we depend on (and love!) to global warming? The answer is obviously NO! So let us, who are responsible for connecting travellers to places, jointly start introducing initiatives in our own organizations so this scenario can still be reversed.