Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency

Published by Georgia Crump on

Tourism declares a climate emergency

At Treepoints, sustainability in the travel industry is an issue very close to our hearts. Our founders were also behind Stasher, the international storage network for travellers. So imagine our delight when we heard about Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency.

For the first time in history, the tourism industry has come together to express its concern for the climate crisis. Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency is a new movement uniting companies and figures across the sector.

The impact of travel on the climate

Writing now in January 2021, the number of scheduled flights worldwide is down 43.5% from this time last year. This will come as no surprise given the global Covid-19 pandemic has all but halted international air travel.

However what’s more surprising is that the tourism industry has chosen now to speak out about the climate crisis. This is admirable indeed. Given how much tourism has suffered, we might not have expected any actions that would significantly rock the boat. However, despite the effect of the pandemic on travel, the climate crisis is still a growing issue, and one that we all need to play our part in fighting. 

Indeed, the travel sector has a lot to answer for. Travel related activities account for roughly 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. And mile for mile, flying is the most damaging mode of transport for the environment. A one-way flight from London to Sydney produces 3 tonnes of CO2. This is more than the average resident of countries including Brazil, India, Pakistan and dozens of others produce in a whole year. 

Global temperatures rising

Science tells us that in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to limit global temperature change to 2C by the end of the century. Unfortunately, we’re currently on track for a 3 to 5C rise. This means we need to take serious measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions. And the tourism industry, which encourages millions of people to fly around the world every year, has a part to play. 

“What concerns us is that in tourism, there is a disconnect between our collective goals of helping travellers experience the wonders of the world and the fact that we only have one Earth and we are destroying it.”This comes from Bob Garner, owner of Casal dei Fichi, in Le Marche, Italy, which has declared a climate emergency. 

global temperatures rising

For some tour operators, this news is not new. Natural Habitat Adventures and Intrepid have been carbon neutral since 2007 and 2010 respectively. They represent but two of many companies using carbon offsetting to reach net carbon neutrality in their operations. More broadly, since 2016 over 1850 local governments across 33 countries have declared a climate emergency. 

However, 2020 brought the first collective action from the tourism industry against climate change. 

A new movement in the tourism industry

Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency is a new movement set up to unite organisations, companies, and professionals across the tourism industry. Their aim: start a conversation about tackling the climate crisis. Without having all the answers worked out, we felt we needed to start facilitating an open and honest conversation within our industry”, Tourism Declares co-founder Alex Narracott says. 

The goal is simple. First recognise and accept the climate emergency, as proven by science. Then start making a plan and working together towards a low-carbon industry. To date the movement has 147 members who have all declared a climate emergency. 

To be a member of Tourism Declares, you must have a climate action plan, and give other members regular updates on it. This should include cutting carbon emissions and sharing best practices. The more people and companies that support this movement, the more traction it will gain. In time this will put pressure on other industry players to recognise the climate emergency. 

This kind of industry-wide collaboration may seem counterintuitive for many used to the fierce competition of the travel industry. But as Narracott explains, “We have a shared goal of taking action on the climate emergency and we’ll all gain from collaboration.” Working separately together on a task of this scale is counterproductive: “We miss out on the huge benefits that come with coming together to address shared challenges, challenge each other, ask questions, share ideas, and inspire and push each other along.”  

Covid-19 and tourism

And far from hindering the movement, it seems that the pandemic has provided more incentive than ever to tackle climate change. As explained on the Tourism Declares website, “We believe that the complex nature of the tourism industry; its climate impacts and its potential for positive influence and transformative change, necessitate the creation of an industry-specific Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency initiative. This has become even more urgent as our industry looks to recover, reimagine and renew from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Covid-19 has devastated tourism, there’s no doubt about it. But if Tourism Declares are right, now is the perfect time to step back and consider how we can make the industry more sustainable and environmentally conscious when it does pick up again.