Climate Change: Tourism’s Roles in Promoting Climate Action

Dec 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Adaptation, Biodiversity, Biomass, Capacity Development, Carbon, Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Environment, Global Warming, Green House Gas Emissions, International Agencies, Land, Lessons, News, Resilience, Technologies, UNFCC-CoP18, UNFCCC, Vulnerability, Waste, Water, Website-eNews Portal

TIES: The UN Climate Change Conference (COP18) in Qatar starts today, and in the next two weeks discussions will be held to assess progress in dealing with climate change. The UN climate talks shed light to the urgent needs for bold climate action, and this is a perfect time for all of us in the tourism industry to evaluate the challenges and opportunities to promote positive climate action through tourism.

Tourism and Climate Change

The tourism industry, directly and indirectly, is both a cause of and significantly impacted by climate change. Infrastructure required to maintain attractive tourism destinations inevitably involve energy and resource consumption, putting added pressure on the local ecosystems. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), transport-related carbon emissions account for 2% of all carbon emissions worldwide, and are rising fast. The EU Airline emissions trading system, where they receive tradable allowances and cap their emissions, is an example of regional efforts to help the tourism sector curb its emissions.

In many tourism sectors, on the other hand, climate conditions define the length and quality of a tourism season by being the principal driver of seasonality in tourism demand, thus making winter sport and water-based destinations the “canary in the coal mine” for climate change impacts on tourism. Climate change also affects environmental resources that serve as tourist attractions and activities, and often constitutes the resource on which tourism is built. Nature-based tourism, therefore, is particularly sensitive to climate-induced environmental changes.

At the same time, the tourism industry is also faced tremendous opportunities to inspire positive action: from implementing climate-friendly management systems and strategies to reduce carbon emissions, to engaging travelers to promote responsible choices such as the use of public transportation and environmentally-friendly tours.

Mitigating Climate Footprint

Mitigation (a strategy seeking to reduce green house gas emissions), as well as adaptation, is a critical part of tourism businesses and destinations’ climate policies and practices. The following are just a few examples of positive climate action by tourism industry stakeholders.

  • Basecamp Foundation, a non-profit tourism organization creating sustainable destinations, works toward the mitigation of impacts of climate change by planting trees on leased land, teaching interested parties about the carbon reduction function of trees, spreading global as well as environmental awareness, and teaching future generations about the importance of trees.
  • Intrepid Travel organizes small group adventure trips with an emphasis on sustainability practices. In particular, through their Carbon Management Plan, they have achieved their goal of becoming a carbon neutral company by offsetting their global business carbon emissions, their trips and flights and thereby being able to donate money to certified carbon abatement projects.
  • Rios Tropicales, an eco-adventure company that operates throughout Costa Rica, has worked with the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) on reforestation efforts, and has, in partnership with UNEP, pledged to plant 30,000 trees to contribute to the reforesting of the rainforest as part of a worldwide UN-sponsored tree-planting program.

Business Approaches to Climate Change

The tourism sector can learn from related efforts in other industries that incorporate progressive ways of mitigating climate footprint:


Is Carbon Offsetting an Effective Tool for Sustainable Tourism?

As the discussions carry on for the second week of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP18) in Qatar, we take a closer look at carbon offsetting practices within the tourism industry. The Carbon Neutral Company defines carbon offsets as “credits for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made at another location”, for example, investing in wind farms to generate renewable energy to “offset” fossil fuel-derived energy. Some groups at Doha have advocated for the “Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)“, which, through trading of carbon credits, aims to “balance the books” on carbon emissions.

Challenges with Carbon Offsetting Project Management

Tourism businesses and destinations can “offset” travelers’ carbon emissions by calculating their travel-related emissions (air travel, local transportation, accommodation, etc.) and by making financial contributions to projects that address climate impact mitigation (e.g. tree planting, reforestation, subsidizing renewable energy, or increasing energy efficiency). Costa Rica, for example, with the help of CANAECO, is aiming to be a carbon-neutral destination by sequestering 20% of all yearly flight emissions and planting 400,000 trees every year.

Overall, quality carbon offset projects should consist of actions that would not have occurred without the extra support. Tree-planting, for example, is one of the frequently implemented approaches to carbon offsetting projects, and is a convenient tool. Well-maintained tree-planting projects can serve as a breeding ground for promoting biodiversity, and may help reduce erosion risks, as well as providing positive “side effects” for local communities through ecosystem services such as sustainable sources of firewood. Tree-planting projects that employ fast-growing, non-native trees provide far lower environmental benefits than those that focus on native species. In some cases, tree-planting may not be the optimal approach, as trees require more water than, for example, grasses and shrubs, and may require more skills and resources to manage and maintain.

Is Carbon Offsetting Fueling Greenwashing?

Many critics of carbon offsetting argue that carbon offset schemes often give businesses and consumers the “excuse” for generating carbon emissions. Moreover, they note that carbon offsetting is often used as a way of making businesses look more attractive to consumers and often does not achieve what it claims. In order to be as truthful and effective as possible, tourism businesses and destinations should always be transparent, providing accurate information on the carbon offsetting schemes that they are engaged in. They have the responsibility to not only get the technicalities right, but also to accurately explain to the consumers what they are doing and how they are achieving their goals.

Carbon offsetting, in addition, should not be employed as a stand-alone strategy to address a business or a destination’s climate-friendly practices; rather, it should be considered as part of a mix of strategies including – measuring footprint, reducing emissions, managing impact, and compensating for the emissions that cannot be avoided.

Carbon Offsetting Standards

Carbon emission calculation methods and offsetting values vary from organization to organization. For accurate and credible approaches to carbon offsetting, reliable standards must be followed. The following are two examples of carbon offsetting standards used to evaluate offset programs:

  • The Gold Standard is an international certification standard for carbon mitigation projects that certifies renewable energy and energy efficiency carbon offset projects to ensure they really do produce greenhouse gas reductions; and
  • The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard identifies high-quality carbon offsetting projects, helps developers design credible projects, and assists governments and organizations in ensuring consistent quality.

TIES Members Examples

The following are some examples of tourism stakeholders incorporating carbon offsetting schemes into their sustainability practices:

  • AdventureSmith Explorations, a tour operator offering exploration cruises and wilderness adventures, has calculated the carbon emissions of their cruises for each year and has, through their Carbon Free Cruising campaign, offset these emissions as well as provided means for their travelers to make their own contributions.
  • Benin Ecotourism Concern, an NGO that works to ensure better living standards of communities through ecotourism, is offsetting carbon emissions caused by tourist activities by, for example, planting native, mangrove trees through their Ahémé Lake project.
  • Ecoventura – Galapagos Network, a small cruise operator in the Galapagos, has reduced their carbon emissions by more than 10% through the use of high performance filters and solar panels and wind generators, and has also invested in offsetting emissions from the company’s four yachts and sales offices.
  • Spirit of Japan Travel offers tours throughout Japan for travelers to experience the culture of Japan and is a carbon neutral company. They offset their tour-related carbon emissions by investing portions of their profit in environmental organizations and renewable energy devices as well as planting of native trees with local communities and travelers.
  • Tahi, an estate situated in the North Island of New Zealand, offsets their carbon emissions by planting native trees and shrubs, providing carbon credits and selling them, establishing their own carbon accounting system as well as balancing its activities for carbon offsetting through employing a carbon researcher.




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