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Role of Tourism Sector in Climate Change: A



Undeniable evidences throughout the globe indicate that global

climate has changed compared to the pre-industrial era and is
expected to continue the trend through 21st century and beyond. The
Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)1 documented that
global mean temperature has increased approximately 0.76°C between
1850-1899 and 2001-2005 and it has concluded that most of the
observed changes in global average temperatures since the mid-20th
century is 'very likely' the result of human activities that are increasing
greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

As a consequence, we observe various manifestations of climate

change including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures,
temperature extremes and wind patterns. Widespread decreases in
glaciers and ice caps and warming ocean surface temperature have
contributed to sea level rise of 1.8 mm per year from 1961 to 2003,
and approximately 3.1 mm per year from 1993 to 2003.

The IPCC has projected that the pace of climate change is to

accelerate with continued greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at or
above the current rates. IPCC best estimate suggested that globally
averaged surface temperatures will rise by 1.8°C to 4.0°C by the end
of the 21st century. Even with a stabilized atmospheric concentration of
GHGs at the current level, the earth would continue to warm as a
result of past GHG emissions as well as the thermal inertia of the

Future changes in temperatures and other important features of

climate will manifest themselves in different fashions across various
regions of the globe. It is likely that the tropical cyclones (typhoons
and hurricanes) will become more severe, with greater wind speeds
and heavier precipitation. This will be associated with continuing
increase of tropical sea surface temperatures. Extra-tropical storm
tracks are projected to shift towards the pole, with consequent
changes in wind, precipitation and temperature patterns. The
decreases in snow cover are also projected to continue. The
environmental and economic risks associated with predictions for
climate change are considerable. The gravity of the situation has
resulted in various recent international policy debates. The IPCC has
come out with firm conclusions that climate change would hinder the
ability of several nations to achieve sustainable development. The
Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change found that the
present cost reducing GHG emissions is much smaller than the future
costs of economic and social disruption due to unmitigated climate
change. Every country as well as economic sectors will have to strive
with the challenges of climate change through adaptation and

Tourism is no exception and in the decades ahead, climate

change will play a pivotal role in tourism development and management.
With its close links to the environment, tourism is considered to be
a highly climate-sensitive sector. The regional manifestations of
climate change will be highly relevant for tourism sector that demands
adaptation by all major tourism stakeholders. In fact, it is not a remote
future for the tourism sector since varied impacts of a changing
climate are already evident at destinations around the world.

As a flip side of the above story, tourism sector itself is a major

contributor climate change through GHG emissions, especially, from
the transport and accommodation of tourists. Tourism sector must
play a proactive role to reduce its GHG emissions significantly in
harmony with the 'Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007' which
recognized that global emissions of GHG need to peak in the next 10-
15 years and then be reduced to very low levels, well below half of
levels in 2000 by mid-century. The major challenge ahead of tourism
sector is to meet the international sustainable development agenda
along with managing increased energy use and GHG emissions from
massive growth in activities projected for the sector.

The concern of the tourism community regarding the challenge

of climate change has visibly increased over the last five years. The
World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and other partner organizations
convened the First International Conference on Climate Change and
Tourism in Djerba, Tunisia in 2003. The Djerba Declaration recognized
the complex inter-linkages between the tourism sector and climate
change and established a framework for on adaptation and
mitigation. A number of individual tourism industry associations and
businesses have also shown great concerns by voluntarily adopting
GHG emission reduction targets, engaging in public education
campaigns on climate change and supporting government climate
change legislation.

Direct impacts

Climate determines seasonality in tourism demand and

influences the operating costs, such as heating-cooling, snowmaking,
irrigation, food and water supply and the likes. Thus, changes in the
length and quality of climate-dependent tourism seasons (i.e., sun-
and-sea or winter sports holidays) could have considerable
implications for competitive relationships between destinations and,
therefore, the profitability of tourism enterprises. As a result, the
competitive positions of some popular holiday areas are anticipated to
decline, whereas other areas are expected to improve.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has

concluded that changes in a number of weather extremes are
probable as a result of projected climate change. This includes higher
maximum temperature and more hot days, greater storm intensity
and peak winds, more intense precipitation and longer and more
severe droughts in many areas. These changes will have direct bearing
on tourism industry through increased infrastructure damage,
additional emergency preparedness requirements, higher operating
expenses and business interruptions.

Indirect impacts

Since environmental conditions are critical resources for

tourism, a wide-range of environmental changes due to climate
change will have severe adverse impacts on tourism. Changes in water
availability, loss of biodiversity, reduced landscape aesthetic,
increased natural hazards, coastal erosion and inundation, damage to
infrastructure along with increasing incidence of vector-borne diseases
will all impact tourism to varying degrees. Mountain regions and
coastal destinations are considered particularly sensitive to climate-
induced environmental change, as are nature-based tourism market
segments. Climate change related security risks have been identified
in a number of regions where tourism is highly important to local-
national economies. Tourists, particularly international tourists, are
averse to political instability and social unrest. Reduction in tourism
demand will affect many economies in form of reduction in income
(Gross Domestic Product). This may result into social unrest amongst
the people regarding distribution of wealth which will lead to further
decline in tourism demand for the destination.

Tourists have great adaptive capacity with relative freedom to

avoid destinations impacted by climate change or shifting the timing
of travel to avoid unfavourable climate conditions. Suppliers of
tourism services and tourism operators at specific destinations
have less adaptive capacity. Large tour operators, who do not own the
infrastructure, are in a better position to adapt to changes at
destinations because they can respond to clients demands and
provide information to influence clients' travel choices. Destination
communities and tourism operators with large investment in immobile
capital assets (e.g., hotel, resort complex, marina or casino) have the
least adaptive capacity. However, the dynamic nature of the tourism
industry and its ability to cope with a range of recent major shocks,
such as SARS, terrorism attacks in a number of nations, or the Asian
tsunami, suggests a relatively high adaptive capacity within the
tourism industry.

Measuring Carbon Emissions from Tourism

The tourism sector is not defined by the goods and services it

produces, but by the nature of the consumers of a wide range of
distinctive goods and services. This suggests that tourism is defined
on the basis of consumption rather than production. Given that
tourism is consumer-defined, it is important to define a tourist. World
Tourism Organisation defines tourism as consisting of 'the activities of
persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual
environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure,
business and other purposes.' This means that business travellers and
'visiting friends and relatives' travellers are also considered to be
tourists as well as holidaymakers.
In context of accounting for energy use and the resultant carbon
dioxide emissions, it is essential to distinguish between the direct from
indirect impacts of tourism activities. Direct impacts are those that
result directly from tourist activities, while indirect impacts are
associated with intermediate inputs from second or third (or further)
round processes. Becken and Patterson measured carbon emission
from tourism activities in New Zealand. The methodology they opted
was primarily focussed on direct impacts. Their methodology focussed
only on carbon dioxide emissions as the main greenhouse gas
resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels and did not consider the
emission of other greenhouse gases. This omission is acceptable for
fuel combustion from land-born activities (e.g. transport or
accommodation) where carbon dioxide constitutes the major
greenhouse gas. It had been estimated that carbon dioxide accounts
only for about one-third of the total emissions. Thus, a factor of 2.7
had been suggested to include effects from other emissions such as
nitrous oxides etc.
Table 1: Energy Intensities and Carbon Dioxide Emission
Transport Energy intensity CO 2 factor
(MJ/pkm) (g/pkm)
Domestic air 2.8 188.9
Private car 1.0 68.7
Rental car/company car/ 0.9 62.7
Coach 1.0 69.2
Camper van 2.1 140.9
Train (diesel) 1.4 98.9
Motorcycle 0.9 57.9
Scheduled bus 0.8 51.4
backpacker bus 0.6 39.7
Cook Strait Ferry 2.4 165.1
Accommodation Energy intensity (MJ/ CO 2 factor
visitor-night) (g/ visitor-
Hotel 155 7895
b&b 110 4142
Motel 32 1378
Hostel / backpackers 39 1619
Campground 25 1364
Attractions/Activities Energy intensity CO 2 factor
(MJ/visit) (g/visit)
Buildings (e.g. museums) 4 172
Nature attraction 8 417
Air activity 424 27697
Motorised water activity 202 15312
Adventure recreation 43 2241
Nature recreation 70 1674

Source : Becken and Patterson (2006)

Table 2: Average travel behaviour by six international tourist

Internation Coach VFR AutoBack- Campe Soft
al tourists tourist tourist
packe r comfor
2001 r t
Number of 429,15 343,57 247,97 131,419 84,195 42,966
Transport in km 9 7 2
Domestic air 755 436 281 241 186 431
Rental car 153 180 1483 748 856 743
Private car 8 529 25 298 104 61
Coach 756 53 173 310 68 264
Camper van 0 6 5 4 1579 35
Scheduled bus 25 77 22 491 62 120
Train 35 17 10 40 20 215
Ferry 10 11 32 63 64 35
backpacker bus 1 16 1 471 11 8
Cruise ship 12 1 4 1 0 0
Accommodation in nights
Hotel 7.5 1.0 2.4 1.3 0.7 3.3
Motel 0.2 1.2 9.1 0.4 0.9 1.2
Home 0.2 35.7 1.4 2.1 2.5 2.5
backpacker 0.2 1.2 0.2 23.3 1.6 2.2
Campgrounds 0.1 0.6 0.2 1.2 20.4 0.3
b&b 0.0 0.1 1.1 0.1 0.1 17.3
Total energy 3538 3649 3440 3657 6306 5035
per tourist
Source: Becken and Cavanagh (2003)

Table 3: Total energy use of the New Zealand tourism sector

(transport, accommodation, attractions) for 2000
Tourists Trips 2000 Energy use 2000 CO2
(PJ) emissions
International 1,648,988 7.59 434
Domestic 16,554,006 17.76 1,115
Total 18,202,944 25.35 1,549
Source:Becken (2002)

In another recent study by an international team of experts,

which was commissioned by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO),
the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO), in order to provide background
information for the Second International Conference on Climate
Change and Tourism (Davos, Switzerland, 1-3 October 2007),
emissions from global tourism had been estimated. The study
suggested that emissions from three main sub-sectors International
and domestic tourism are estimated to represent 5.0% of total global
emissions in 2005 (Table 4). The study also suggested, as evident from
Table 4, that transport sectors generated about 75% of the total CO2
emissions from global tourism activities. Air travel alone accounted for
40% of the total CO2 emissions.

Table 4: Emissions from Global Tourism in 2005

Source CO2 (Mt) % to Total Emission

from Tourism
Air Transport 517 39.6
Other Transport 468 35.8
Accommodation 274 21.0
Other Activities 45 3.4
TOTAL 1,307 100
Total world emission 26,400
Tourism’s Share (%) 4.95

Task ahead

In the last UNFCCC negotiations (Vienna Climate Change Talks

2007), it was recognized that global emissions of GHG need to be
reduced to well below half of the levels in 2000 by middle of this
century. Therefore, mitigation of GHG emission of particular
importance to tourism sector also. However, the mitigation strategies
must also consider several other dimensions along with the need to
stabilize the global climate. These issues are the right of people to
rest and recover and leisure, attaining the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals, growth of the economies and the similar ones.
Along with these, the mitigation policies need to target different
stakeholder groups, including tourists, tour operators, accommodation
managers, airlines, manufacturers of cars and aircraft, as well as
destination managers. Mitigation Instruments need to address different
key issues in different regions.

There could be four major mitigation strategies to address

greenhouse gas emissions from tourism- 1) reducing energy use, 2)
improving energy efficiency, 3) increasing the use of renewable
energy, and 4) sequestering carbon through sinks. In recent past,
climate change and its impacts on various sectors have already been
recognised a key area of research in India. However, till date there has
not been any research on impact of tourism on climate change or
measuring the GHG emission from tourism activities. In view of the
growth in tourism activities in domestic as well as international
market, It is important that the government, research community and
other relevant organisations take initiative to understand the current
status regarding tourism’s contribution to GHG emission in the
country. This would enable the policy makers to opt for necessary
steps towards mitigating emissions without creating hindrance to the
sector’s growth which is crucial for the country’s economy.


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with air travel. Journal of Sustainable Tourism,10 (2).
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S., Frampton, C. and Simmons, D. (2001) Energy consumption patterns in the
accommodation sector - the New Zealand case, Ecological Economics 39, 371-86.

Gössling, S. (2002) Global environmental consequences of tourism, Global Environmental

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The 'Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007' represent the latest international
negotiations on GHG emission reductions under the auspices of the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change,