What the Tourism Industry Should Take Away From COP22

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By Emma Owens

I attended the COP22 climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, in November of last year on behalf of Positive Impact and the event industry as a whole.

Positive Impact was invited to contribute to a “consultation of recommended key environmental indicators (KEIs) for the tourism private sector.” And we were introduced to the ever-growing economic impact of tourism.

As an industry, tourism represents 9.8 percent of GDP and is responsible for 1 in 11 jobs (WTTC).  At first glance, this session and its content sounds like something only airlines, tour operators and tourism experts should hear. So, why was Positive Impact — an events company — invited to attend? After all, there were only 25 or so experts in the room.

Tourism is more than just leisure. A significant part of tourism is generated by the MICE industry (meetings, incentive, conferences and exhibitions/events).

An example is myself traveling to Morocco to attend COP22. While in Morocco I visited sights, I ate in local restaurants, stayed in a hotel and travelled via plane to get there. My visit to COP22 contributes to tourism as did the other 20,000+ attendees who made their way across the world for the sole purpose of the COP22 event. This is why Positive Impact, a leader in sustainable events, was invited to take part in the consultation and why Positive Impact is collaborating with the United Nations to tell the story of events during the U.N.’s 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Others delegates in the room ranged from the founder of the International Ecotourism Society, who is now the director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at Harvard University, to the Research Director from the World Travel and Tourism Council. So, I was in good company.

For me personally, it felt there was pressure on this year’s COP. It seemed like a year to show action as it is a culmination of three previous major milestones:

  1. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA): Governments agreed on a framework for financing sustainable development.
  2. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: This agenda defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be implemented in the next 15 years by 2030. The goals apply on a global basis and cover aims from ending poverty to combatting climate change.
  3. The Paris Agreement: A legally binding agreement signed by 197 countries to instigate action on reducing the impacts of climate change in order to cap the global temperature rise at 2 degrees celsius and even limit the temperature increase to a further 1.5 degrees celsius.

With this in mind, we were the second meeting of experts (one took place a month earlier, where these KEIs were elected) and we had the task of absorbing and discussing these KEIs and deciding whether they were feasible, the most essential, and if there were any which had not already been considered, that should be.

These indicators need to be reported on by the tourism value chain, not just hotels, which means that the event industry is going to have a direct impact on these KEIs and should take equal responsibility in monitoring and measuring these indicators. Here are some of the findings.

The key indicator areas:

  • Water
  • Energy
  • Biodiversity/land
  • Materials (resources and waste)
  • Climate Change (greenhouse gas emissions)

Key feedback on indicators specified in the above topics and how the event industry is impacted:

1. There is the need for a harmonious reporting method that allows for the tourism sector value chain to benchmark against each other and provide context to the results of monitoring and measuring.

This certainly applies to events, and our industry cannot disregard the responsibility it has in contributing to the SDGs and these key environmental indicators. This is an opportunity to show leadership and protect the future of the event industry.

With the Global Reporting Initiative’s Event Organizers Sector Supplement at the event industry’s disposal, what is preventing people from monitoring and measuring right now? There is also the opportunity to use an online tool specifically designed by the event industry for the event industry called EventSustainability, which fulfills requirements of ISO 20121 and allows users to report in line with GRI EOSS. For more information on this tool, please get in touch: emma@sustainableeventsltd.com.

2. Hotels and other suppliers need to be able to provide clients with measurements on request. For example, a great indicator to report on is the ratio of use of renewable energy sources versus primary energy sources on an annual basis. This indicator is important as it could demonstrate progress and allow us to monitor the shift from non-renewable energy sources to renewable energy resources.

3. It’s time to get serious about water use. Again, in our industry the event planner would need to be supplied with measurements from suppliers. Feedback from the consultation in relation to water within the tourism sector was that water is often a local issue and dependent on geographical location, different challenges could arise. It was said that there is no one-size-fits all when it comes to the topic of water. It would be great to hear the event industry’s experience on this topic.

The event industry should consider the five categories highlighted by the October meeting as areas to consider when holding events and reporting on the impact of those events: energy, water, biodiversity, materials (waste and resources) and climate change.

These are representative of the environmental indicators but it is essential that the social and economic impacts are also considered. By considering the three pillars of sustainability and leveraging the campaign which Positive Impact helped develop with the U.N., during the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism, we are in a fantastic position to show the power our industry has in creating positive and sustainable change, not only for the planet but also for the mindsets of participants attending events.

Images courtesy of the author

Emma Owens is a Partnerships Manager at Positive Impact.

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