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Role of Tourism Sector in Climate Change - A


Dripto Mukhopadhyay
Indicus Analytics

Friday, 07 November 2008 00:00

There could be four major mitigation strategies to address greenhouse gas

emissions from tourism- 1) reducing energy use, 2) improving energy efficiency,
3) increasing the use of renewable energy, and 4) sequestering carbon through

Undeniable evidences throughout the globe indicate that global climate
has changed compared to the pre-industrial era and is expected to
continue the trend through 21st century and beyond. The Inter-
governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)1 documented that global
mean temperature has increased approximately 0.76・ ・C between
1850-1899 and 2001-2005 and it has concluded that most of the
observed changes in global average temperatures since the mid-20th
century is 'very likely' the result of human activities that are increasing
greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

As a consequence, we observe various manifestations of climate change including

ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and
wind patterns. Widespread decreases in glaciers and ice caps and warming ocean
surface temperature have contributed to sea level rise of 1.8 mm per year from
1961 to 2003, and approximately 3.1 mm per year from 1993 to 2003.

The IPCC has projected that the pace of climate change is to accelerate with
continued greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at or above the current rates. IPCC
best estimate suggested that globally averaged surface temperatures will rise by
1.8・ ・C to 4.0・ ・C by the end of the 21st century. Even with a stabilized
atmospheric concentration of GHGs at the current level, the earth would continue
to warm as a result of past GHG emissions as well as the thermal inertia of the

Future changes in temperatures and other important features of climate will

manifest themselves in different fashions across various regions of the globe. It is
likely that the tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more
severe, with greater wind speeds and heavier precipitation. This will be associated
with continuing increase of tropical sea surface temperatures. Extra-tropical
storm tracks are projected to shift towards the pole, with consequent changes in
wind, precipitation and temperature patterns. The decreases in snow cover are
also projected to continue. The environmental and economic risks associated with
predictions for climate change are considerable. The gravity of the situation has
resulted in various recent international policy debates. The IPCC has come out
with firm conclusions that climate change would hinder the ability of several
nations to achieve sustainable development. The Stern Review on the Economics
of Climate Change found that the present cost reducing GHG emissions is much
smaller than the future costs of economic and social disruption due to
unmitigated climate change. Every country as well as economic sectors will have
to strive with the challenges of climate change through adaptation and mitigation.
Tourism is no exception and in the decades ahead, climate change will play a
pivotal role in tourism development and management. With its close links to the
environment, tourism is considered to be a highly climate-sensitive sector. The
regional manifestations of climate change will be highly relevant for tourism
sector that demands adaptation by all major tourism stakeholders. In fact, it is
not a remote future for the tourism sector since varied impacts of a changing
climate are already evident at destinations around the world.

As a flip side of the above story, tourism sector itself is a major contributor
climate change through GHG emissions, especially, from the transport and
accommodation of tourists. Tourism sector must play a proactive role to reduce
its GHG emissions significantly in harmony with the 'Vienna Climate Change Talks
2007' which recognized that global emissions of GHG need to peak in the next
10-15 years and then be reduced to very low levels, well below half of levels in
2000 by mid-century. The major challenge ahead of tourism sector is to meet the
international sustainable development agenda along with managing increased
energy use and GHG emissions from massive growth in activities projected for the

The concern of the tourism community regarding the challenge of climate change
has visibly increased over the last five years. The World Tourism Organization
(UNWTO) and other partner organizations convened the First International
Conference on Climate Change and Tourism in Djerba, Tunisia in 2003. The
Djerba Declaration recognized the complex inter-linkages between the tourism
sector and climate change and established a framework for on adaptation and
mitigation. A number of individual tourism industry associations and businesses
have also shown great concerns by voluntarily adopting GHG emission reduction
targets, engaging in public education campaigns on climate change and
supporting government climate change legislation.
Direct impacts

Climate determines seasonality in tourism demand and influences the operating

costs, such as heating-cooling, snowmaking, irrigation, food and water supply and
the likes. Thus, changes in the length and quality of climate-dependent tourism
seasons (i.e., sun-and-sea or winter sports holidays) could have considerable
implications for competitive relationships between destinations and, therefore, the
profitability of tourism enterprises. As a result, the competitive positions of some
popular holiday areas are anticipated to decline, whereas other areas are
expected to improve.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that
changes in a number of weather extremes are probable as a result of projected
climate change. This includes higher maximum temperature and more hot days,
greater storm intensity and peak winds, more intense precipitation and longer
and more severe droughts in many areas. These changes will have direct bearing
on tourism industry through increased infrastructure damage, additional
emergency preparedness requirements, higher operating expenses and business

Indirect impacts

Since environmental conditions are critical resources for tourism, a wide-range of

environmental changes due to climate change will have severe adverse impacts
on tourism. Changes in water availability, loss of biodiversity, reduced landscape
aesthetic, increased natural hazards, coastal erosion and inundation, damage to
infrastructure along with increasing incidence of vector-borne diseases will all
impact tourism to varying degrees. Mountain regions and coastal destinations are
considered particularly sensitive to climate-induced environmental change, as are
nature-based tourism market segments. Climate change related security risks
have been identified in a number of regions where tourism is highly important to
local-national economies. Tourists, particularly international tourists, are averse to
political instability and social unrest. Reduction in tourism demand will affect
many economies in form of reduction in income (Gross Domestic Product). This
may result into social unrest amongst the people regarding distribution of wealth
which will lead to further decline in tourism demand for the destination.

Tourists have great adaptive capacity with relative freedom to avoid destinations
impacted by climate change or shifting the timing of travel to avoid unfavourable
climate conditions. Suppliers of tourism services and tourism operators at specific
destinations have less adaptive capacity. Large tour operators, who do not own
the infrastructure, are in a better position to adapt to changes at destinations
because they can respond to clients demands and provide information to
influence clients' travel choices. Destination communities and tourism operators
with large investment in immobile capital assets (e.g., hotel, resort complex,
marina or casino) have the least adaptive capacity. However, the dynamic nature
of the tourism industry and its ability to cope with a range of recent major
shocks, such as SARS, terrorism attacks in a number of nations, or the Asian
tsunami, suggests a relatively high adaptive capacity within the tourism

Measuring Carbon Emissions from Tourism

The tourism sector is not defined by the goods and services it produces, but by
the nature of the consumers of a wide range of distinctive goods and services.
This suggests that tourism is defined on the basis of consumption rather than
production. Given that tourism is consumer-defined, it is important to define a
tourist. World Tourism Organisation defines tourism as consisting of 'the activities
of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for
not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes.'
This means that business travellers and 'visiting friends and relatives' travellers
are also considered to be tourists as well as holidaymakers.

In context of accounting for energy use and the resultant carbon dioxide
emissions, it is essential to distinguish between the direct from indirect impacts of
tourism activities. Direct impacts are those that result directly from tourist
activities, while indirect impacts are associated with intermediate inputs from
second or third (or further) round processes. Becken and Patterson measured
carbon emission from tourism activities in New Zealand. The methodology they
opted was primarily focussed on direct impacts. Their methodology focussed only
on carbon dioxide emissions as the main greenhouse gas resulting from the
combustion of fossil fuels and did not consider the emission of other greenhouse
gases. This omission is acceptable for fuel combustion from land-born activities
(e.g. transport or accommodation) where carbon dioxide constitutes the major
greenhouse gas. It had been estimated that carbon dioxide accounts only for
about one-third of the total emissions. Thus, a factor of 2.7 had been suggested
to include effects from other emissions such as nitrous oxides etc.
Table 1: Energy Intensities and Carbon Dioxide Emission Factors

Transport Energy intensity (MJ/pkm) CO 2 factor (g/pkm)

Domestic air 2.8 188.9

Private car 1.0 68.7

Rental car/company car/ taxi 0.9 62.7

Coach 1.0 69.2

Camper van 2.1 140.9

Train (diesel) 1.4 98.9

Motorcycle 0.9 57.9

Scheduled bus 0.8 51.4

backpacker bus 0.6 39.7

Cook Strait Ferry 2.4 165.1

Accommodation Energy intensity (MJ/ visitor-night) CO 2 factor (g/ visitor-night)

Hotel 155 7895

b&b 110 4142

Motel 32 1378

Hostel / backpackers 39 1619

Campground 25 1364

Attractions/Activities Energy intensity (MJ/visit) CO 2 factor(g/visit)

Buildings (e.g. museums) 4 172

Nature attraction 8 417

Air activity 424 27697

Motorised water activity 202 15312

Adventure recreation 43 2241

Nature recreation 70 1674

Source : Becken and Patterson (2006)

Table 2: Average travel behaviour by six international tourist

International tourists 2001 Coach tourist VFR Auto tourist Backpacker Camper Soft comfort

Number of tourists 429,159 343,577 247,972 131,419 84,195 42,966

Transport in km

Domestic air 755 436 281 241 186 431

Rental car 153 180 1483 748 856 743

Private car 8 529 25 298 104 61

Coach 756 53 173 310 68 264

Camper van 0 6 5 4 1579 35

Scheduled bus 25 77 22 491 62 120

Train 35 17 10 40 20 215

Ferry 10 11 32 63 64 35

backpacker bus 1 16 1 471 11 8

Cruise ship 12 1 4 1 0 0

Accommodation in nights

Hotel 7.5 1.0 2.4 1.3 0.7 3.3

Motel 0.2 1.2 9.1 0.4 0.9 1.2

Home 0.2 35.7 1.4 2.1 2.5 2.5

backpacker hostel 0.2 1.2 0.2 23.3 1.6 2.2

Campgrounds 0.1 0.6 0.2 1.2 20.4 0.3

b&b 0.0 0.1 1.1 0.1 0.1 17.3

Total energy per tourist (MJ) 3538 3649 3440 3657 6306 5035

Source: Becken and Cavanagh (2003)

Table 3: Total energy use of the New Zealand tourism sector (transport,
accommodation, attractions) for 2000

Tourists Trips 2000 Energy use 2000 (PJ) CO2 emissions (kilotonnes)

International 1,648,988 7.59 434

Domestic 16,554,006 17.76 1,115

Total 18,202,944 25.35 1,549

Source:Becken (2002)

In another recent study by an international team of experts, which was

commissioned by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization
(WMO), in order to provide background information for the Second International
Conference on Climate Change and Tourism (Davos, Switzerland, 1-3 October
2007), emissions from global tourism had been estimated. The study suggested
that emissions from three main sub-sectors International and domestic tourism
are estimated to represent 5.0% of total global emissions in 2005 (Table 4). The
study also suggested, as evident from Table 4, that transport sectors generated
about 75% of the total CO2 emissions from global tourism activities. Air travel
alone accounted for 40% of the total CO2 emissions.

Table 4: Emissions from Global Tourism in 2005

% to Total Emission from

Source CO2 (Mt)

Air Transport 517 39.6

Other Transport 468 35.8

Accommodation 274 21.0

Other Activities 45 3.4

TOTAL 1,307 100

Total world emission 26,400

Tourism・s Share (%) 4.95

Task ahead

In the last UNFCCC negotiations (Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007), it

was recognized that global emissions of GHG need to be reduced to well
below half of the levels in 2000 by middle of this century. Therefore,
mitigation of GHG emission of particular importance to tourism sector
also. However, the mitigation strategies must also consider several other
dimensions along with the need to stabilize the global climate. These
issues are the right of people to rest and recover and leisure, attaining
the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, growth of the
economies and the similar ones. Along with these, the mitigation policies
need to target different stakeholder groups, including tourists, tour
operators, accommodation managers, airlines, manufacturers of cars and
aircraft, as well as destination managers. Mitigation Instruments need to
address different key issues in different regions.

There could be four major mitigation strategies to address greenhouse

gas emissions from tourism- 1) reducing energy use, 2) improving
energy efficiency, 3) increasing the use of renewable energy, and 4)
sequestering carbon through sinks. In recent past, climate change and
its impacts on various sectors have already been recognised a key area
of research in India. However, till date there has not been any research
on impact of tourism on climate change or measuring the GHG emission
from tourism activities. In view of the growth in tourism activities in
domestic as well as international market, It is important that the
government, research community and other relevant organisations take
initiative to understand the current status regarding tourism・s
contribution to GHG emission in the country. This would enable the policy
makers to opt for necessary steps towards mitigating emissions without
creating hindrance to the sector・s growth which is crucial for the
country・s economy.


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The 'Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007' represent the latest international
negotiations on GHG emission reductions under the auspices of the United

Framework Convention on Climate Change,