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Taylor Haelterman headshot

Investment in People and Ideas is Key to Climate Change Adaptation for Tourism-Dependent Countries

The Blue Mountains mountain range in Jamaica.

The lush Blue Mountain range in eastern Jamaica.

Jamaica is calling for investment in human capital and ideas to build capacity for climate change adaptation. 

Despite contributing the least to global emissions, tourism-dependent regions like the Caribbean are hugely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and disasters like pandemics. They struggle with economic resilience and social stability from an inability to recover well, and recover quickly, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism, said at the 2023 Global Inclusive Growth Summit last week co-hosted by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and The Aspen Institute.

The struggle to recover is made clear in the numbers. Tourism accounted for just over 29 percent of Jamaica’s economy in 2019, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. That dropped to just over 18 percent in 2021 as the industry worked to bounce back from the pandemic. The number of tourism-related jobs also dropped from almost 30 percent of the country’s total jobs in 2019 to around 23 percent in 2021. 

The minister called for investment in local youth, innovation, knowledge, and skills to enable small, developing and underdeveloped countries to become resilient. 

“Ideas, ideas, ideas,” he said. “We need investment in ideas. That’s a power— to create innovation, to be creative and to add value. And I want to leave you with that because that’s what we need — to add value.” 

This is not the first time the Ministry of Tourism has emphasized investment in the country’s youth. In 2018 it helped launch a $100 million program that gave high-school students the opportunity to earn an entry-level qualification in tourism. And in 2022 the Tourism Innovation Incubator started a search for innovative tourism solutions that will give 25 winners access to training, mentoring and the chance to pitch their ideas to investors. 

Prioritizing local innovation is already paying off in another tourism-dependent country: Costa Rica. Its success comes from an emphasis on ecotourism — travel directed toward supporting environmental conservation and the well-being of locals. 

The tourism industry makes up 6 percent of the country’s economy and accounts for almost 10 percent of total jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Both are down from 11 percent in 2019. 

The emphasis on ecotourism balances the industry’s economic importance with climate change mitigation. Costa Rica alone makes up about 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, and 25 percent of the country’s land is protected — including 29 national parks, 19 wildlife refuges and eight biological reserves, according to its Tourism Board.

The country contributes only 0.02 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is on track to meet the emission reduction targets set in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the United Nations Development Program. 

One growing ecotourism project is El Camino de Costa Rica, a hiking trail that crosses the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, passing through rural villages along the way. It harnesses the power of the tourism industry to support the sustainable economic development of inland communities and small businesses instead of only towns on the coasts. 

The trail is also an opportunity to promote environmental education and biodiversity protection. Mar a Mar, the nonprofit in charge of El Camino, built a center for communities to connect near Barbilla National Park and a hiker’s camp owned and operated by a local community. It plans to build another center to host biodiversity and environmental education, training and research.

Local innovation can lead to economic growth that supports climate change mitigation and adaptation. When loss and damage funding is discussed again at the COP28 climate talks in December, it is crucial to heed the calls of those who are experiencing the worst effects of the climate crisis. They are already developing their own solutions. They know best what they need. And they, like Bartlett, know how best we can support them: “Invest in ideas, that’s the future of the world.” 

Image credit: Yves Alarie/Unsplash 

Taylor Haelterman headshot

Taylor’s work spans print, podcasts, photography and radio. She brings her passion for covering social and environmental issues through the lens of solutions journalism to her work as editorial assistant. 

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