FAQ - Climate Change and Tourism

  • Tourism cannot be singled out of the global response to climate change.‎
  • The sector must be transparent and coherent and not forget the dual relationship between tourism and global warming, both as its victim and contributor‎
  • While rising sea levels, desertification, deforestation or the melting of snow and glaciers hurt the tourism economy, the sector also contributes through its very existence to the warming process.

What is the impact of global warming on tourism?

While there are some positive effects of global warming, such as longer beach seasons and the development of rural and seaside tourism, the negative effects outweigh these benefits:

  • Rise of sea levels - will eventually submerge small islands and coastal regions. Regions depending on tourism are under threat.‎
  • Desertification and the scarcity of water - making regions less hospitable for both local communities and tourists.
  • Deforestation and the harm to biodiversity – affecting both the ecosystem and directly reducing the global carbon sink, while also discouraging demand for such destinations.
  • Melting of snow and glaciers – one of the causes behind rising sea levels, and also affecting mountains and ski resorts, resulting in the shift of destination demands, depending on the most attractive climate conditions.

How does tourism contribute to climate change?

Exact figures are difficult to provide, tourism has a broad nature and various components which all contribute to a different extent to climate change (CO2, heating, air-conditioning, construction, etc.). Despite these difficulties, recent approximations estimate:

  • Tourism is responsible of about 5% of global CO2 emissions. In terms of radiative forcing, tourism contributes to 4.6% of global warming.1
  • The transport sector, including air, car and rail, generates the largest proportion, with 75% of all emissions. In terms of carbon emissions, air causes 54-75% while coach and rail 13%. Air travel is considered the main tourism contributor to global warming: It’s responsible for 40% of the total carbon emissions caused by this sector, and 54-75 of radiative forcing
  • The accommodation sector accounts for approximately 20% of emissions from tourism. This involves heating, air-conditioning and the maintenance of bars, restaurants, pools and so on. Clearly, this varies according to the location and size of the accommodation, as well as the type of establishments – hotels having greater energy consumption than pensions or camping sites.
  • Furthermore, activities such as museums, theme parks, events or shopping also contribute to certain amounts of emissions (approx. 3.5%). 1

1. “Climate Change and Tourism: Responding to Global Challenges”, UNEP and UNWTO, 2007

What are UNWTO’s recommendations to mitigate the effects of tourism growth on climate change?

  • UNWTO promotes the high potential of the tourism sector for mitigation of GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions and lowering energy consumption, thanks to the use of alternative fuels and hybrid motors.
  • The accommodation sector has very accessible options to reduce energy, from solar and wind energy to efficient insulation methods, and is developing initiatives to promote local products and avoiding environmentally harmful ones.
  • Air transport remains the main challenge: UNWTO works closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in a search for the best options on climate change activities - emissions trading, carbon offsets, incentives and taxes, etc.
  • To simply decrease air travel frequency would be an unrealistic task to attempt. Moreover, staying at home would also involve consuming energy, through working in the factory or the office, the heating, air conditioning, driving cars etc. work must be done to find a middle path as populations of less developed countries would be hugely affected if we deprived them of the economic contribution of tourism.

What is the carbon neutral policy?

UNWTO wants to encourage a trend of carbon neutral participation to its conferences. This involves three basic steps:

  1. Reducing carbon emission by considering alternative means of transportation.
  2. Measuring the carbon footprint associated with the travels, by using a carbon emission calculator through one of the carbon offset organisations.
  3. Offsetting the carbon emission by purchasing certified carbon credits or supporting offset projects such as tree planting, renewable energy, energy conservation and environmental education.

How can the tourism sector adapt to the effects of climate change?

  • Change of operating patterns - given that winter sports, beach or health-wellness tourism, no name but a few, require very specific climate conditions. The diversification of products and services decreases the dependency on climate shifts.
  • Adaptation of tourist destinations - a difficult and long-term measure, which involves the modification of economic circuits, new technologies, intensive training efforts and especially changing the minds of all the people involved, including the tourists.
  • Mitigation of global warming - putting into action plans to reduce carbon emissions or modernize through carbon friendly technologies, amongst others.

Is there a trade-off between climate response and poverty alleviation?

We must not allow the efforts for climate change mitigation to push poverty alleviation aside. The United Nations’ main priorities remain the UN Millennium Development Goals. Work is being carried out to face climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation as simultaneous objectives.

Tourism offers one of the main sustainable development opportunity to many developing and least developed countries:

  • Tourism, generated US 735 billion in receipts in 2006, out of which 221 billion —nearly a third— went to developing countries.
  • It is one of the major export sectors for poor countries and source of foreign exchange in 46 of 49 least developed countries.
  • International tourism growth in the 50 least developed countries increased by 110% between 2000-2007, and thus offers one of the main sustainable development opportunities to many developing and least developed countries.
  • It also has a positive impact on local industries as well as creating direct and indirect jobs.

What is the framework for tourism’s response to climate change?

Four key events have put in place the global response framework for climate change:

  • 2nd International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism, 1-3 October 2007, Davos, Switzerland
  • Tourism Ministerial Summit in London, 13 November 2007, London, UK
  • UNWTO General Assembly, 22-29 November 2007, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
  • UN Climate Change Conference, 3-14 December 2007, Bali, Indonesia