Thursday, June 24
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Role of Tourism Sector in Climate Change – A Perspective

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 produc¬tion. 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 trav¬elling 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.

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