The impact of tourism on climate change

The impact of tourism on climate change

Does tourism add to climate change?

The relationship between climate change and tourism is twofold: climate change impacts on tourism and tourism impacts on climate change. The first relationship may ask for adaptation measures, like shifting destinations, seasons and activities and investing in new air conditioning systems. The second relationship may ask for mitigation measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This paper evaluates the magnitude of the impact of tourism on climate change and looks at mitigation measures and adaptation-to-mitigation.

The paper observes that the impact of tourism activities on climate change is not very evenly distributed over the different kinds of tourism. Main determinants are the distance between the destination and the homes of the tourists, the transport mode choice and the length of stay. It finds that:

  • the tourism and travel sector currently contributes a higher share to climate change than (directly) to the global economy and is thus a relatively eco-inefficient sector with respect to global warming
  • the tourism and travel sector is developing a higher dependency on high energy transport and activities and more luxurious accommodations, thus further decreasing eco-efficiency
  • air transport causes an increasing share of all tourism & travel related global warming, a share that is currently already over 60 per cent
  • most tourism trips are relatively eco-efficient as 80 per cent of the trips (by rail, coach and car) cause just about 20 per cent of the GHG emissions
  • individuals travellers are faced with more choices for increasing their personal contribution to global warming per travel day than options to reduce this personal contribution
  • technology for reducing GHG emissions and increasing energy efficiency offers the best opportunities for tourist accommodation and rail transport. For road transport fuel efficiency and alternative fuels remain the best solution, apart from a modal shift to rail
  • further prospects for increasing fuel efficiency of air transport are relatively low because the technology of jet aircraft is already more or less mature. Alternative fuels will not be introduced on a large scale within the next three to five decades, unless strong government incentives are given.
The paper argues that only a small part of all tourism is responsible for the main share of GHG emissions. This means that mitigation can be directed mainly at this smaller part of tourism, leaving the main part more or less unaffected.
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