Tourism is bad for the climate

Global tourism has long been a trillion-dollar industry, which today is growing faster than world trade. But how much do these trips contribute to greenhouse gas emissions?

Previous estimates suggest that international tourism plays a minor role in the carbon footprint: In 2010, researchers found emissions of 1.12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — or about 2.5 percent of global emissions. However, an Australian research team led by Manfred Lenzen of the University of Sydney wanted to know more about it and spent a year and a half doing research. In the complex analyzes, the researchers did not limit their work on the additional CO2 emissions from tourist transport and hotels as before, as this is not the complete carbon footprints of tourism, as co-author Arunima Malik says.

Accordingly, she and her team also took a closer look at around a billion supply chains, which would not exist without tourism. This includes, for example, the food for the tourists or the production of souvenirs. The study data came from 189 countries and was also provided by the World Tourism Organization. The analysis of this information provided a much more dramatic picture of the CO2 footprint of global tourism.

According to the new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, tourism accounts for around eight percent of the total carbon footprint, more than three times as much as previously thought. On the one hand, this is due to the more comprehensive calculation method and, on the other hand, to the annual rates of increase: according to the data from the Australian scientists, tourism-based CO2 emissions increased between 2009 and 2013 from 3.9 to 4.5 billion tons of CO2 or around 3.3 percent annually.

Growing prosperity in many parts of the world contributes to the growing level of emissions from tourism: with a gross domestic product of more than $ 40,000 per capita, a ten percent increase in prosperity translates into an increase in travel carbon footprints up to 13 percent. In addition, the segment of luxury travel is growing particularly strongly, and here wealthy tourists from China or India also play an important role.

Travelers from the USA, China and Germany lead the rankingĀ  forĀ tourism greenhouse gas producers followed by tourists from India, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and Japan. Conversely, there are quite a few countries such as the Maldives, Mauritius, Cyprus or the Seychelles, where tourists now account for 30 to 80 percent of national carbon dioxide emissions.

Researchers have also analyzed and ranked CO2 footprints through tourism bilaterally; on a global scale, for example, Canadians and Mexicans traveling to the US leave the biggest carbon footprints.

Broken down by the individual factors, flights contribute by far the most to the CO2 footprint of global tourism. Therefore, the scientists’ most important recommendation to travelers around the globe is to avoid flights as well as possible or to pay compensation. They calculate that the additional cost would be $425 on a flight from Sydney to London and back.

At the political level, the researchers argue that tourism — unlike in the Paris Climate Agreement — should be included as a separate point in climate agreements. Because that is the only way to limit the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from tourists to five billion tonnes by 2025.

Andrei Santov

Andrei, a sociologist by profession, born in Russia but currently located in UK, covers mostly European and Russia-related news for The Talking Democrat.