Turismo y Cambio Climático

A complex challenge

The orders of magnitude of the problem of Climate Change (hereinafter CC) at a global level far exceed any previous challenge. International cooperation is conditioned by factors such as political uncertainty (there is no certainty that governments will maintain CC mitigation policies) and also technology (it is not known whether alternative technologies will really be beneficial in the long term).

On the other hand, the problem of the “stowaway”, that is, those states that emit Greenhouse Gases (hereinafter GHG) at a much higher level than the vast majority of the planet and, on the other hand, the weakness of the enforcement mechanisms, monitoring and possible adaptation to CC, make the expected reduction of GHG an intricate goal to say the least.

An additional challenge is the marked asymmetry of interests, which leads to ruling out adaptation instead of mitigation at the planetary level as the first alternative for the design of institutional solutions. The factors of sensitivity and vulnerability to the threat of CC are different for each State (Bernauer T., 2013). In a scenario in which tourism continues its current trajectory, before the end of the 21st century, the tourism sector would result in higher emissions than the emissions required for all sectors combined to avoid “dangerous climate change” (condition exceeding a 2°C temperature increase). This dangerous CC would mean that whatever efforts other sectors make to mitigate their emissions, the tourism sector alone could still cause global emissions to exceed CO2 emission limits (Peeters, 2017).

In the coming years, global tourism activity will have to face a reinvention process that allows alternatives that contemplate the reduction of GHG emissions, but it must also contribute to the preservation and regeneration of both the natural and cultural environments, which are its main resource, ensuring that the activity benefits local communities.

“Unless immediate emission reductions occur, limiting warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be out of reach” (IPCC Report, 2021)

Managing climate risk: there is no more time

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a desperate call for awareness of the risk of global warming, not only because of the impact on temperature, but also because of a list of risks associated with this phenomenon, such as an increase in heat waves, floods, droughts, rising sea levels, melting permafrost, an increase in forest fires, among other severe climate changes that affect life on the planet and that in the case of tourism directly impact the development of the activity and the viability of tourist destinations.

From our sector we can contribute to finding alternatives, as well as support those initiatives that are already underway and that prioritize sustainability from a holistic definition, we cannot dissociate the environmental phenomenon from its socio-economic implications that will affect future generations. As a global industry, tourism facilitates cultural exchange and diversity, allows conservation and ecology projects to be associated with economic development, and can be a central resource for the preservation of local heritage and culture. In other words, our economic activity integrates a diverse global community and can be a great engine for mitigating climate change, since it facilitates the exchange of ideas and therefore the construction of new realities.

Making decisions about how to solve this quagmire is not a task for others at some point in the future (Weart, 2003: P.235): what scientists repeat to us is that we no longer have time and it is the responsibility of our generation to find a new way. Every mitigation measure we take counts, no matter how small.

"Recent changes in climate are widespread, rapid and have been intensifying at a rate unprecedented in thousands of years and are due to human influence" (IPCC Report, 2021)

Climate Action in Tourism

It is estimated that tourism activity at a global level contributes 8% to GHG emissions, the Nature Climate Change report published in 2018 revealed that previous calculations had underestimated the incidence of tourism in global warming since the figure obtained quadruples the earlier estimates.

Thus, the “Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism” marks a milestone in the inclusion of CC mitigation in the international tourism agenda, expressing the commitment of the signatories to “prepare action plans in accordance with these pathways ( those indicated by the UNFCCC) to halve carbon emissions from tourism in the next decade and achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible, and always before 2050”. The declaration highlights five axes to be able to carry out effective action plans: measurement, decarbonization, regeneration, collaboration and financing. Collaboration will be crucial to be able to articulate solutions to a problem of the magnitude that climate change represents, especially because its consequences are global, but the international system is highly asymmetric and inequitable.

To build and innovate on these new axes, it will be crucial to have information and measurement tools, in this sense, the Adventure Travel Trade Association recently published an article that addresses the issue of climate action from the perspective of small and medium-sized companies, which is the predominant one in the Nature and Adventure Tourism sector: “Climate Action: A Simple Guide for Small Travel Businesses” although it is currently in English, it is a very valuable resource as a starting point to incorporate sustainability policies related to climate change mitigation.