left corner left corner
China Daily Website  

Climate change: Appeal to sustainable tourism

Updated: 2014-02-25 10:36
( chinadaily.com.cn)

Six countries from different regions of the globe have been united in a joint effort to fight global challenges such as climate change, water and sustainable development. These challenges are interdependent, for there cannot be water without a sound climate, development without water or prosperity without harmony between man and nature. Each and every one of us can contribute in our own way to healthier living and the political, security, social and economic environment. With each passing year, climate change effects are becoming more apparent, and water constraints are making themselves felt more keenly. However, we have many opportunities to begin working towards more sustainable development.

The most recent IPCC report on the effects of climate change (2013) shows it is being felt around the world. We need to both cut emissions and ensure that our infrastructure and ecosystems are prepared for a warmer world.

Few sectors encompass the range of challenges posed by climate change and water issues as fully as tourism. Tourists emit greenhouse gases as they fly across the globe. They stay in luxurious, water-intensive hotels. They consume food and other goods shipped in from around the world. Depending on what is included, tourism accounts for an estimated 4 to 10 percent of global emissions. Tourists demand infrastructure in locations, such as coastal resorts, that are particularly vulnerable to future climate change.

At the same time, tourists drive much positive change. The very fact that they value coastal areas, clean seas and beautiful scenery is what makes possible the protection of these resources in many places. Tourism generates 10 percent of global GDP; it is one of the fastest growing sectors and has a great multiplier effect. It provides valuable income to regions or even entire countries which might otherwise remain in poverty or see their young people migrate to cities. In some cases, tourism is a lever to protect a valuable habitat - a rainforest, a coral reef, a mangrove swamp - even in the face of other commercial pressures.

A less tangible, but perhaps even more important fact, is that tourism brings much of the world's populations into contact with new cultures, new peoples and new environments. These experiences teach us to value not only our own countries and communities, but also those around the world. These shared values are essential to confronting challenges such as climate change.

It is essential to reduce negative impacts while making the most of the benefits. Our countries have taken leading roles in this endeavour. For instance, airlines from Singapore and the UAE are currently some of the most efficient in the world, with emissions per passenger kilometre being around 25% lower than the global average. Hotels can adopt cutting edge energy and water efficiency measures. Tourism can also be made more sustainable by means of broader measures, such as the increased use of renewable energy in all countries. The UAE has made a Green Growth Strategy, including tourism, the core of its development strategy.

Some countries, such as Costa Rica, have made "eco-tourism" their main strategy for attracting tourists. Obviously, the extent to which a country can do this depends on the habitats at its disposal and other pressures on the land. It also shows how tourism can effectively protect vital ecosystems in the long term. Even if tourism is not entirely focused on nature, important protection mechanisms are possible, e.g. the UAE's policy to preserve and expand mangrove forests despite coastal development. Slovenia is a very green country, rich in water and biodiversity. Its tourism is based on nature, the mountains, lakes, hot springs, and the sea. To preserve its landscape and the quality of life, a Tourism Development Strategy was adopted with a view to promoting sustainable tourism. The identity of destinations is being strengthened as active, healthy, and green. Cape Verde is a vulnerable country, mainly due to its isolation, water shortage and fragile ecosystems. To date, tourism development has focused on coastal zones (sun, sand and sea tourism), which has already produced some negative environmental impacts. The Government has shown concern and is taking measures to tackle the barriers to tourism becoming a tool for sustainable development. In pursuing this goal, focus has been placed on investment in renewable energy, a holistic environmental management approach, and collaborative partnerships, such as the Public-Private Partnership for Sustainable Tourism developed in 2010.

The international community has also recognised the importance of making tourism more sustainable in many venues . The World Tourism Organisation not only stresses the three pillars of sustainable development - economic, social, and environmental - but also accords a specific section to the unique challenge of climate change. Certain progress has been made in fighting climate change as part of the UNFCCC negotiations, but we still have far to go. The World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2014 will again look at climate change and the economic dimensions of addressing it. In September 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will invite world leaders to participate in the Climate Summit. Their shared goal will be to mobilise action and ambition regarding climate change to keep the rise in average global temperatures at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This will provide another opportunity for us to reconcile the need for economic development and climate protection. Tourism is showing us both the challenges and opportunities of this effort.

Although we may have different ideas, economies, policies, and philosophies, we live with the environment and will continue to depend on it.

The article is written by The Green Group, an informal organization of the foreign ministers of Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Iceland, Singapore, Slovenia and the United Arab Emirates. The views do not necessarily represent those of China Daily.