Antonio Santos del Valle 

Climate Change and its Impact on Tourism

Antonio Santos del Valle 

Climate Change and its Impact on Tourism

For the last few weeks I have been participating in summer courses or meetings, as they are called here, specialising in tourism in various cities in Florida. 

Twelve international professors and more than a hundred students from different countries and with different professional experience are taking part in these unique meetings. 

One of the most popular activities is the one called 'Current Events'. In these sessions, three groups are almost always formed naturally, made up of students of different nationalities, gender, beliefs and professional experience who come up with really innovative and interesting ideas, concepts, etc.

As an exceptional case, last week we had the problem that everyone present agreed on one topic: 'The difficult consequences of climate change and its impact on Tourism'.

A quick review of the news, the extreme weather effects in different parts of the world are singularly affecting countries, cities and citizens in general, and how beyond the news, the authorities and society in general, were giving sufficient importance to the effects and consequences of these phenomena in a sector as important as tourism.

At the moment, whether due to the heat being suffered in some destinations in Europe, China or the United States, the rains in countries such as Peru or historic droughts such as those occurring in Uruguay, climate change is in the conversations and is a topical issue. But in the wake of these effects, was attention being paid or assessment being made to the consequences of extreme weather effects on tourism and how to prevent or mitigate them?

All those present agreed that the time has come when tourism destinations must take into account in the political and management definition that climate in general, and the effects of climate change in particular, must be present in all sections and processes of tourism management.

After analysing various information and reports, we see that tourism activities are responsible for approximately 5% of global emissions. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the carbon footprint of hotel establishments accounts for 20% of the total, including heating and air-conditioning, cooling of bars, restaurants and air-conditioning of swimming pools. As for the means of transport, it is the one that generates the highest percentage of emissions in the sector with 75% of the total.

Hence, in any forum, the idea of promoting responsible and sustainable tourism is present in all discussion circles. But the tourism sector is not only responsible, it is also vulnerable to climate change.

The climate determines the length and quality of the tourist seasons and this has a direct influence on the choice of tourist destinations, but also on tourist spending.

It also has a direct impact on the environment. The consequences of climate change on tourism are already being felt today, especially in coastal areas, mountainous areas and small islands, which are both the main destinations for travellers and the driving force of the sector. If they continue to progress, experts warn, the flow of tourists in this area will decrease and with it jobs, hotels and businesses will be lost. For all these reasons, the UNWTO-OMT considers these areas to be particularly sensitive to environmental changes caused by the climate, as they are aimed at tourism niches that revolve around nature.

Faced with these consequences, in the early years of this century a trend of sustainability emerged in the tourism industry that, on the one hand, promotes the reduction of emissions and that considers changes in its operation to guarantee the future of the environments and the safety and wellbeing of travellers.

Just a few years ago, tourism experts stressed the importance of attracting investment to destinations to provide jobs and generate economic development. Environmental problems and climate change were not issues of their competence and responsibility. 

Today we are already seeing how climate change is affecting environments, especially coastal areas and islands as organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have warned of the phenomenon of coastal flooding. 

In Europe, it is predicted that, if the current scenario of emission reductions and temperature increases of between 2.5ºC and 3ºC is maintained, related damage will increase at least tenfold by the end of the 21st century. This represents a real threat to coastal communities and their natural, economic and cultural heritage. In the Mediterranean region alone, 42 million people live in low-lying coastal areas, which are highly exposed to rising sea levels.

Climate change therefore poses a risk to the tourism sector. We saw it with five Pacific islands flooded by rising seawater and now also in Jakarta, Indonesia. Forecasts indicate that by 2050, this city will be completely submerged; in fact, they have been forced to move their capital with an investment of more than 30 billion euros. 

Recovering the tourism sector in high-risk areas and seeking long-term sustainable global alternatives is a priority, and this concern has also been conveyed to international tourism authorities with statements such as "Transforming towards the tourism of the future" to make the sector "more responsible, conscious and committed" and to preserve nature, culture and local communities".

The climate emergency, the loss of biodiversity and of environmental or ecosystem services, which are the processes of natural ecosystems that benefit human beings, must condition the current models and developments in our society. Key environmental resources on which we depend are at risk and science warns of our vulnerability as reflected in the current health situation. Stakeholders, including consumers, must move decisively towards change. Reducing consumption, emissions, waste and other impacts must go hand in hand with employment, the economy, compliance, health and wellbeing. We can no longer delay this just, responsible and sustainable transition, but above all, made with common sense and logic, and above all, taking into account the citizens who live in the different territories.

The controversial SDGs 8, 12 and 14 are dedicated to tourism, calling for policies and practices that generate sustainable and inclusive economic growth, responsible consumption and production, and the use of oceans and marine resources. 

Likewise, SDG 13 sees the direct link between tourism and the 2030 Agenda. With an integrated target here, it mentions 'mainstreaming climate change measures into national policies, strategies and plans'. Interestingly, according to the Global Compact, almost 90% of companies working in tourism are already taking action to achieve the SDGs, with the most common ones being the reduction and mitigation of environmental impacts and the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Moving towards sustainable actions is also the line of work that institutions such as the UNWTO - UNWTO or the WTTC have set themselves with a joint programme that they are implementing to reach 2050 free of CO2 emissions. An objective shared by more than 300 industry agents who signed the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism presented at COP26. With the support of the UNWTO, they have joined governments and destinations with the commitment to reduce emissions by half by 2030 and meet the goal of zero emissions by 2050.

But with all these efforts, manifestos, speeches and plans, what is actually being done, and is anything concrete being done to address or mitigate the impact of the effects of extreme weather events?

Surprisingly, and in a very summarised way, it was concluded that in general among institutions, authorities and companies related to tourism development, there were 'many wishes to take into consideration' but few concrete examples.

So, what now? The answers: we must look for coordinated and joint actions (states), group solutions (society), not forgetting individual solutions (society), i.e. basically awareness raising and education of the host population but also of tourists and travellers. 

But will it be enough?

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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