The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology, researchers say.
We all love to travel. Many of us do at any rate. We love to explore, discover new places, make new friends and get acquainted with cultures different from our own. It’s all harmless fun, after all.
Or is it?
No, it’s not, according to an international team of researchers. The carbon footprint of global tourism is way larger than previously assumed, they say. The researchers conducted a global survey of 160 countries between 2009 and 2013 in order to calculate the amount of CO2 emissions produced by the tourism industry worldwide.
In so doing, they scanned more than a billion supply chains with the aim of tracking the goods and services tourists bought. What they found was that the tourism industry’s carbon footprint around the planet grew by 15% from 3.9 to 4.5 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide. That is four times more than previously thought and accounted for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the surveyed period.
“Transport, shopping and food are significant contributors,” they explain, writing in the journal Nature Climate Change. “The majority of this footprint is exerted by and in high-income countries. The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology.”
And it’s going to get worse. Tourism is a trillion-dollar industry that is expected to grow by 4% each year, faster than international trade. The growth is largely a result of increasing wealth creation in countries like China where more and more people can now travel for leisure.
The researchers project that “due to its high carbon intensity and continuing growth, tourism will constitute a growing part of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.” They estimate that global tourism will increase carbon emissions to about 6.5Gt by 2025. Currently, the United States produces most of the tourism-related emissions, followed by China, Germany and India.
On a per-capita basis, however, it’s small island nations popular with tourists that have the largest carbon footprints, the researchers explain. “[The] Maldives tops the list – 95% of the island’s tourism-related emissions come from international visitors,” they write. “Tourists are responsible for 30-80% of the national emissions of island economies.”
A solution for reducing the industry’s massive carbon footprint lies in responsible tourism. “Ultimately real change will come from implementing regulations and incentives together to encourage low-carbon operations,” the researchers argue.
“At a personal level, though, it’s worth looking at the carbon-cost of your flights, choosing to offset your emissions where possible and supporting tourism companies that aim to operate sustainably,” they add.