Climate Change & Tourism

Background

Tourism is both highly vulnerable to climate change while at the same time contributing to it. Threats for the sector are diverse, including direct and indirect impacts such as more extreme weather events, increasing insurance costs and safety concerns, water shortages,  biodiversity loss and damage to assets and attractions at destinations, among others. Continued climate-driven degradation and disruption to cultural and natural heritage will negatively affect the tourism sector, reduce the attractiveness of destinations and lessen economic opportunities for local communities; as natural and cultural resources are the foundation for the tourism sector’s competitiveness. 

At the same time, tourism is contributing to climate change. Scientific evidence shows that the concentration of the most abundant greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), in the atmosphere has reached unprecedented levels. Tourism associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were estimated to be around 5% of global emissions in 2005, with transport generating 75% of the overall emissions*.

While the Paris Agreement has generated a new momentum and there are many efforts at all levels to find solutions to mitigate impacts and adapt to changing environmental conditions, as well as to increasingly report on activities and impacts, the tourism sector continues to need more evidence on essential climate-related information that is needed for better decision making. 

The core objective of the Paris Agreement is to keep long-term global warming well below 2°C. To this end, the parties to the agreement “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, [...] and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter” in order “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century” (Art.4.1) at the latest.

Among others, the Paris Agreement requires all Parties to materialize their efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead, including regular reporting on their emissions and implementation efforts. A global stocktake every 5 years, is also foreseen in order to monitor implementation, assess the collective progress towards achieving the objectives of the agreement and to guide further actions by Parties.

Research undertaken by UNWTO in 2016** indicated that to date, approximately 40% of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) acknowledge tourism either as a country priority, as part of their mitigation and adaptation strategies, or as a sector vulnerable to climate change. The international sphere of tourism also provides opportunities for increased efficiency and acceleration of climate action. However, as it was concluded during the discussions held at the 2016 International Symposium of the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme at UNFCCC COP22 in Marrakech, the lack of a sectoral perspective does not allow creating links between the contribution of tourism industries to the NDCs and the efforts being undertaken by tourism stakeholders operating internationally. 

* UNWTO, UNEP, & WMO (2008). Climate change and tourism: Responding to Global Challenges.
** UNWTO research (2016) looked at 128 NDCs and 35 INDCs (including the EU’s) submitted before November 2016

Latest Activities

While the figure provided for 2005 on tourism's contribution to the overall global emissions was a first baseline for discussion of tourism’s contribution to climate change and strategies to reduce its emissions, there is a need to update and extend this estimation,including also the growth and climate action undertaken in the tourism sector during the past decade into account.

In order to promote evidence-based decision making of tourism stakeholders towards more climate action and low carbon practices, UNWTO jointly with ITF/OECD is currently preparing a study on Global CO2 emissions from tourism – an updated estimate from a transport perspectiveWith transport being the main sub-sector contributing to the tourism sector’s global GHG footprint, collaboration with the International Transport Forum of OECD is key to generate such updated estiman ate. The International Transport Forum (ITF) is an intergovernmental organization with 59 member countries. It acts as a think tank for transport policy and covers the analysis of trends in all transport modes.