Groups set goal of cutting tourism emissions in half by 2030

Groups set goal of cutting tourism emissions in half by 2030

Global tourism leaders called upon governments, destinations and businesses to cut tourism-related emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050 — as they launched the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) on Thursday morning.

Recognizing an urgent need for a consistent worldwide plan to implement climate action in tourism, the Glasgow Declaration requires signatories to commit to measuring emissions, decarbonizing and unlocking financing options, while committing to deliver concrete climate action plans with 12 months of signing, according to a news release from the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time,” Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the UNWTO, said at a declaration signing ceremony on Thursday. “It's also a challenge to tourists, for the natural wonders people travel to see the future of the communities they visit. The window of opportunity to rethink and reform our sector is closing.”

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More than 300 tourism stakeholders have already signed the declaration, developed by the UNWTO in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Visit Scotland, the Travel Foundation and Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, within the framework of the U.N.’s One Planet Sustainable Tourism Program.

As the tourism sector continues recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, Pololikashvili acknowledged his own privilege in being able to attend COP26 amid such a “positive atmosphere,” adding that the UNWTO expects a gradual return to pre-pandemic travel levels by 2024 at the latest.

“And hand-in-hand with this comes the possibility of emissions rebounding rapidly, making it hard for tourists to stay aligned with the international goals,” he said, stressing that without immediate action, emissions could grow by 25 percent in 2030.

“We know that good will and international intentions are there — tourists want to travel more sustainably, many priority businesses have led the way in advancing climate action,” Pololikashvili continued. “But good intentions alone are not enough.”

Although the Glasgow Declaration already has more than 300 launch partners, only 1 in 4 stakeholders has a climate action plan in place at this point, according to Pololikashvili. He therefore emphasized the importance of mandating climate action plans among signatories within a year’s time.

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“The pandemic has given us the opportunity to reset and rethink the way we plan, develop and manage tourism,” agreed David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, in a video address. “As a country, we have recognized the gem hidden in our own backyards — the natural resources which have always been our source of livelihood.”

As the first Pacific Island country to become a signatory to the declaration, Micronesia is urging both its neighbors and Pacific tourism organizations to join the efforts as well, Panuelo said.

Iván Eskildsen, minister of tourism in Panama — one of only three carbon-negative countries in the world — stressed the “need to revise the way of life we have,” by reevaluating tourism’s role in decarbonization, wildlife protection, carbon sink preservation and local community empowerment.

Because more than 30 percent of Panama’s land contains preserved national park zones, the country needs to involve local communities in active management of these areas — which is a win-win situation to those communities due to the economic benefits, Eskildsen said. Citing National Geographic, he noted that while only 5 percent of the world’s population is Indigenous, these individuals preserve 80 percent of global biodiversity.

As far as businesses are concerned, Pololikashvili applauded the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), a London-based tourism industry association, for partnering on the Glasgow Declaration launch. The WTTC, he said, includes more than 500 of the strongest global companies in the sector.

Pololikashvili stressed that 80 percent of the world’s tourism sector includes small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Those smaller tourism ventures, he explained, need capacity and financing to “join us in the journey towards net zero.” The UNWTO is therefore engaging with international financial institutions and climate finance bodies, with the goal of creating a new net-zero tourist fund, Pololikashvili said.