Well over a year into the coronavirus pandemic, and anyone who loves to travel is undoubtedly missing the adventure of exploring parts unknown. While it will likely be years before global travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, a group of stakeholders are taking the pause as an opportunity to shift the sector in a new direction.
Signatories of the newly announced Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism will commit to cut global travel emissions by at least half over the next decade and reach net-zero emissions "as soon as possible" before 2050. Specifically, each must deliver a science-based climate action plan within a year of signing on, or update their existing plans to increase ambition.
Signatories will be able to officially sign on to the Declaration in October, ahead of its official launch at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.
A wide cross-section of stakeholders took part in information sessions on the Declaration during Climate Week last week, providing some insight into how it will be received in the travel sector. Participants included multilateral bodies like the World Tourism Organization and the U.N. Environment Program, national and regional tourism organizations like VisitScotland and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, destinations like Machu Picchu and the Oregon Coast, and travel companies like Intrepid Group, Radisson Hotel Group and Inkaterra.
The need for action in the sector is clear: The United Nations estimates that transportation-related emissions from tourism will increase by 25 percent from 2016 levels by 2030, and air travel alone could consume as much as 27 percent of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
The travel sector was among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, having lost an estimated $4.5 trillion in 2020. Considering less than half of the global population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that drops to 2.2 percent in low-income countries, the impacts on society as well as the travel sector are likely just getting started.
The One Planet Vision for a Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector was adopted last year with the aim of embedding sustainability and social equity into the way the industry recovers. "This crisis has highlighted both the fragility of the natural environment and the need to protect it, as well as the intersections of tourism economics, society and the environment like nothing before in history," the plan reads. "It represents an opportunity to accelerate sustainable consumption and production patterns and build back better tourism."
Climate action is a central piece of that plan: Among other things, the plan calls for monitoring and reporting carbon emissions from tourism, promoting the introduction of science-based targets, accelerating the decarbonization of tourism operations, and engaging the tourism sector in carbon removal.
The Declaration is being pitched as the next step forward, with the aim of "defining a clear and consistent sector-wide message and approach to climate action in the coming decade."
A number of the organizations that took part in information sessions last week are already taking some steps on their own: VisitScotland has an environmental action plan in place, Inkaterra is working with other local stakeholders to make Machu Picchu the first carbon-neutral destination in the world, and Intrepid Group hired a climate scientist to lead the way toward achieving its science-based targets, among other examples. As these industry leaders set an example, it makes sense to want to scale this type of action sector-wide, and it seems some stakeholders in the travel sector feel the Declaration can do just that.
“With a few notable exceptions, travel and tourism has had a slow start in taking the necessary and urgent action to meet global climate targets," Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the Travel Foundation, said in a statement. "However, there are many organizations which want to take more action but have not, either because they are unsure what steps they can take, or because the change required is bigger than any one organization can deliver. The Glasgow Declaration is our opportunity, and COP26 is our moment, to unite and forge those pathways to halve emissions within this decade, so that tourism’s future, and those of the destinations it relies on, is assured.”
Image credit: Spencer Davis/Unsplash
Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling.
We're compiling all data!