Tourism Sector and Climate Change

By Dripto Mukhopadhyay

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 oceans.
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 mitigation.
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 Factors

Transport Energy intensity (MJ/pkm) CO 2 factor (g/pkm)
Domestic air 2.8 188.9
Private car 1.0 68.7
Rental car/company car/ taxi 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/ visitor-night) CO 2 factor (g/ visitor-night)
Hotel 155 7895
b&b 110 4142
Motel 32 1378
Hostel / backpackers 39 1619
Campground 25 1364
Attractions/Activities Energy intensity (MJ/visit) CO 2 factor
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

International tourists 2001 Coach tourist VFR Auto tourist Back­packer Camper Soft comfort
Number of tourists 429,159 343,577 247,972 131,419 84,195 42,966
Transport in km
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 hostel 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 per tourist (MJ) 3538 3649 3440 3657 6306 5035
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 (PJ) CO2 emissions (kilotonnes)
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.
Becken, S. (2002a) Analysing international tourist flows to estimate energy use associated with air travel. Journal of Sustainable Tourism,10 (2).
Becken, S. (2006) Measuring National Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Tourism as a Key Step Towards Achieving Sustainable Tourism, Journal of Sustainable Tourism , 14 ( 4) .
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
Change 12 (4), 283-302.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007b). Sumary for Policymakers. In: M.L.Parry,O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden & C.E. Hanson (Eds.), Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, United Kingdom & New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press
United Nations World Tourism Organization (2003). Climate Change and Tourism: Proceedings of theFirst International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism, Djerba, Tunisia, 9-11 April 2003. Madrid: World Tourism Organization.
Peeters, P. (2007). Tourism and Climate Change Mitigation – Methods, Greenhouse Gas Reductbns and Policies. NHTV Academics Studies No. 6. NHTV. Breda, The Netherlands: Breda University.
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,



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