What It Means When The Tourism Industry Declares A Climate Emergency

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What It Means When The Tourism Industry Declares A Climate Emergency


How we travel and how much is one of the most debated issues in the Climate Emergency. Sustainable tourism companies have come together to launch Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency.

Vicky Smith, founder of Earth Changers, talks us through what this means and how you can get involved.

Georgina Wilson-Powell

Wed 22 Jan 2020

Last week, Earth Changers joined the launch of Tourism Declares, a global campaign to support a collective of travel companies, organisations and industry professionals who believe that tourism should declare a climate emergency and take purposeful action to reduce their carbon emissions.

The signatories acknowledge the science stating we have one decade to address the climate crisis, and accept responsibility to tell the truth, act now and collaborate to help turn it around.

Join the Sustainable Travel Summit

Tourism Declares is a commitment to collaborate to slow down the climate emergency

What is the impact of the travel industry on our climate?

Tourism supports:

  • 1 in 10 jobs: 319 million - more than five times that of mining and nearly twice as many as financial services.
  • 10.4% of global GDP: US$8.8 trillion - exceeding agriculture, banking, automotive manufacturing, and mining.
  • Growth of 3.9%: out-performing the wider economy (3.2%) for eight consecutive years, now the second fastest sector in the world, behind manufacturing (4%).
  • 27.2% of total global service exports.
  • Third worldwide export category, after chemical manufacturing and fuel, but ahead of the food and automotives.
Save Posidonia Project Formentera sustainable tourism
“Tourism provides 1 in 10 jobs worldwide - nearly twice as many as the financial services”

Given this, tourism is seen as a key sector to deliver the sustainable development goals globally, and that is why the UN named 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism for development. 

Unsurprisingly, countries around the world want to promote their destinations, especially developing economies for which tourism represents support for their people, places, conservation and culture. 

Yet the global sector can also create huge negative impacts, which can be social, economic (such as overtourism and inflation), or environmental – the latter gets the bad reputation.

SIlhouette of airplane flying over head

Over 3% of the world's carbon emissions come from our flights

To tell the truth, the carbon footprint of the whole tourism sector is:

  • In total, around 8% of global emissions
  • 75% from transport, of which 
  • 40% (3.2% total) from aviation (arguably 5% with altitude effect) 
  • 32% (2.5% total) from cars
  • 21% (1.7% total) from accommodation
  • 7% from activities

So staycations have emissions too – in fact, the majority (4.8%/8%) of the carbon impact created in tourism are without flying.

But of concern is the ever-increasing demand for flights – projected to grow another 4.1% in 2020 along with the world’s middle classes – when there is no sustainable immediate alternative to fossil fuel to reduce aviation’s emissions (though being worked on, is years away), at a time of peak climate emergency in iconic destinations: fires in Australia and the Amazon rainforest, flooding in the UK, drought in California and South Africa and record-breaking temperatures, land and ocean. 

It is this complex nature of the tourism industry - its emissions and impacts, yet its power and potential for positive influence and transformative change - which have necessitated the creation of the industry-specific Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency initiative.

Painted boats at Pigeon Island Sri Lanka

Many destinations rely on tourism but we have to make it more sustainable

What took the travel industry until now?

Tourism has been crying out for a cross-sector movement that brings together those willing to fight for the climate, but so far not enough has been done and not enough attention is being paid, from government policy, to other practitioners, to consumers.

So leading organisations, individuals and pioneers of sustainable tourism have taken it upon themselves. 

Many of the signatories have been voluntarily involved in driving a more sustainable tourism industry for years, with a shared passion for travel, its positive impacts, and reducing emissions for climate change

From 15 founding signatories of 11 companies and four individuals working in travel. Day 1 added 12 more companies and 2 more individuals, the total now stands at 29.

All acutely sense the dichotomy between what’s best for the world and current policy mitigation and consumer choices. 

The world doesn’t want travellers to stop travelling, but it does need more sustainable choices.

Ecotourism Escapes: From Nepal to Botswana These Responsible Travel Companies Will Help You Reduce Your Impact.

The view from JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort​

Tourism Declares already has 29 signatories you can support

What do organisations have to do to join?

Tourism organisations can ‘Declare’ on their own website or social media profile, by committing to five actions:

1. Develop a ‘Climate Emergency Plan’. And have it adopted by the Executive board* within 12 months of declaration.

2. Share commitment and progress publicly. From initial public declaration, to ‘Climate Emergency Plan’, and progress update against targets each year.

3. Cut carbon emissions.  Ensure the ‘Climate Emergency Plan’ transparently and measurably represents actions designed to achieve at minimum the current IPCC advice to cut global carbon emissions to 55% below 2017 levels by 2030 to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming, through delivering and increasing reductions in the total carbon emissions per trip arising from operations and travel services sold.

4. Work together. Encourage suppliers and partners to make the same declaration; share best practice amongst peers; and actively participate in the Tourism Declares community.

5. Advocate for change. Recognise the need for system change across the industry, and call for urgent regulatory action to accelerate the transition towards zero carbon air travel. 

5 carbon offsetting companies: Make your footprint fainter

The main pool at UXUA
“The world doesn’t want travellers to stop travelling, but it does need more sustainable choices”

What can you do to support Tourism Declares

  • Follow #TourismDeclares across social media
  • See who has declared and submitted plans at Tourism Declares
  • Vote with your wallet: Support the #TourismDeclares organisations.

Want some more?

Vicky Smith is the founder of Earth Changers, an award-winning responsible travel company focusing on positive impact tourism for those serious about sustainability. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.