How can the tourism industry reduce its carbon emissions?

How can the tourism industry reduce its carbon emissions?

Dr. Harold Goodwin, professor emeritus at Manchester Metropolitan University and World Travel Market’s responsible tourism advisor, shares his views on why global warming is a real concern and what the hospitality industry must do to dent the curve.

U.S. President Joe Biden pointed out that we are now in a critical decade when reducing carbon emissions has become urgent. At COP26 last November, there were many promises, but the truth is that we have not yet dented the curve. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year. In January 2020, the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere was 413.30 ppm. In January this year, it reached 417.99 – not even has the global economic slowdown caused by Covid-19 impacted the rate of growth in emissions.

There is increasing talk of reaching net-zero by 2050. By shifting the target for action, we lose the sense of urgency. Our emissions today will contribute to global warming for decades to come, and by 2050, irreparable damage will have been done.

Tourism industry statistics

The key figure to watch out for is the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere. Travel and tourism industry contribute substantially to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses, and global warming causes extreme weather, wildfires, droughts, flooding and more. We can make artificial snow in ski resorts, build sea defences to protect hotels and beaches and wait for the landscape to revive after wildfires, but these are costly measures for our sector.

If it were a country, international aviation would rank between Russia and Japan, with 3.5 percent of global carbon emissions. Back in 2020, the respected German consultancy firm Roland Berger forecast that if other industries were to decarbonize in line with some projections, aviation could account for up to 24 percent of global emissions by 2050 unless a significant technological shift occurs. In such circumstances, governments would have to ration flying aggressively.

Waiting is not an option

Our sector cannot wait until 2050 – we need to act now. We need to prepare for the future, to control our cost base and because it is the right thing to do for children and their children.

The Middle East has two big advantages: sunshine and seawater. They can be combined to make hydrogen, the fuel of the future for aviation, ground transportation and heating and cooling. The UAE is leading the way with programs to reduce carbon emissions and government pressure to comply with sustainability requirements. In a recent interview, John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development and Amaala giga-projects in Saudi Arabia, said that although sustainable practices are expensive, the cost will fall once more operators get on board. The Red Sea Project, slated for completion in 2030, will run entirely on renewable energy.

What to expect

As the industry grows, it will come under increasing pressure from consumers and regulators to decarbonize.

There are four important ways in which our sector can decarbonize:

  1. By building new accommodation and attractions, the World Green Building Standards will become the norm.
  2. The heating and cooling of buildings will need to rely on renewable energy rather than the burning of fossil fuels.
  3. Aviation, ship and ground transportation will need to transition to hydrogen and other low- and zero-carbon emissions power sources, including green electricity.
  4. Our sector will also be expected to ensure that its supply chain is as green as possible, from food and beverage to soft furnishings and refurbishment.
Harold Goodwin
Dr. Harold Goodwin,
World Travel Market’s responsible tourism advisor
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